Triton on track for acquisition approval
A formal decision on whether to proceed with the acquisition of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned long endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability is expected to occur before the end of the first quarter of 2018. The decision, known as Gate 2, is expected to clear the way for the purchase of seven Triton air vehicles and associated ground control stations and support, with deliveries beginning in the 2021 timeframe.
The Triton acquisition is the second phase of a manned/unmanned approach to future maritime ISR, to be delivered under the overarching Air 7000 programme.
The first element of Air 7000, chronologically at least, is acquiring 12 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime ISR aircraft and together, the manned/unmanned team will replace Australia’s current maritime surveillance capability represented by the Lockheed AP-3C Orion.
Australia’s purchase of the Triton has always been dependent upon the maturity of the US Navy’s own Triton programme and with some major milestones recently notched up, including the delivery of the first operational aircraft late last year, the Gate 2 decision would appear to be on track.
US Navy milestones
The US Navy is also acquiring the manned/unmanned combination of P-8A and Triton under its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme, which will replace not only the P-3C Orion maritime patrol capability, but also the E-3E Aries signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, which provides land-based electronic surveillance.
The US Navy’s important ‘Milestone C’ decision (similar to Australia’s Gate 2 milestone), which is essentially the authority for the programme to proceed as planned, was taken in September 2016 and it also authorised the production of two low rate initial production (LRIP) batches, each of two Triton air vehicles.