Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that his country will buy MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft to operate alongside the eight Boeing P-8A Poseidons it plans to purchase. Abbott announced the Triton acquisition during a March 13 visit to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Edinburgh.
The government did not specify the number of Tritons it will acquire or their planned entry-into-service date, saying those details will be outlined in a pending defense white paper and decided in 2016. The acquisition requires AUD $140 million ($127 million) in new facilities, potentially involving an expansion of the existing facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in South Australia, where the Triton will be based.
In a statement, manufacturer Northrop Grumman said it is “pleased to learn that the Australian government has made the first formal decision in a two-stage approval process toward acquiring seven Triton unmanned aircraft systems. We believe Triton is the perfect unmanned solution to help meet Australia’s daunting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance challenge…We look forward to working with the U.S. Navy to assist the Australian government as it examines this transformative capability and as it finalizes plans for Triton’s eventual introduction into service with the Royal Australian Air Force.”
The Triton, developed for the U.S. Navy’s broad-area maritime surveillance requirement, is based on the RQ-4B Global Hawk. The U.S. service plans to field 68 Tritons to operate in tandem with the P-8A Poseidon, a maritime patrol derivative of the Boeing 737-800. It plans initial operational capability of the Triton in 2017.
On February 21, Abbott said the Australian government had approved the purchase of eight Poseidons, making Australia the third P-8 customer after the U.S. and Indian navies. Australia’s first P-8 is scheduled to enter service at RAAF Edinburgh in 2017. Australia is the second customer for the Triton. Its plans call for the MQ-4C to support missions of greater than 24 hours, operating in a coverage area of more than one million square nautical miles. The Poseidon and the Triton are the manned and unmanned components of the Australian Department of Defence AIR 7000 requirement to replace the RAAF’s AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.