The U.S. Navy has ordered a first production lot of three MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The contract award followed five days after the Pentagon approved the program’s initial production phase.
The Naval Air Systems Command on September 22 announced that under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics Frank Kendall had granted the MQ-4C program “Milestone C” approval to proceed to low-rate initial production (LRIP). On September 27, the Department of Defense announced two related awards to Northrop Grumman: a $255 million contract modification to procure three LRIP Lot 1 Tritons, plus main and forward operating control stations; and a $95 million order for interim spares in support of the aircraft’s initial deployment.
An RQ-4B Global Hawk derivative, the Triton is fitted with the AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) 360-degree maritime radar, Raytheon’s Multi-Spectral Targeting System electro-optical/infrared sensor turret, automatic identification system, electronic support measures and a communications relay capability to provide “persistent” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The Navy plans to deploy the UAS in late 2017 and has expressed an overall requirement for 68 Tritons. Northrop Grumman thus far has built three system development test aircraft.
A test team of Navy personnel from Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons VX-1 and VX-20, Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19), based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, and Northrop Grumman validated sensor imagery and performance at different altitudes and ranges before the Milestone C approval. The Triton also transferred full-motion video to a P-8A Poseidon in flight during the operational assessment.
“Triton’s critical technology is mature, and the system development and design review phases have been successful,” said Doug Shaffer, Northrop Grumman vice president of Triton programs. “Completion of the full system operational assessment testing exercised in various real-world scenarios validated the system’s ability to protect the Navy’s fleet from evolving threats. We are extremely pleased with the maritime domain awareness products and results coming from Triton.”