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Northrop Debuts 1st Aussie Triton

Northrop Grumman Corp. unveiled the first MQ-4C Triton autonomous aircraft built for the Royal Australian Air Force at an event held on Sept. 14 at Northrop’s high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft production site in Palmdale.

The unveiling was attended by U.S and Australian government and defense officials. 

Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president of Northrop’s aeronautics systems, said that the debut of the aircraft marks a significant milestone for Australia and the Triton program.

“As we get ready for final system integration and flight test, we are one step closer to delivering this extraordinary maritime awareness capability to Australia,” Jones said in a statement. 

Northrop initiated the build of the first Australian Triton in October 2020 at its production facility in Moss Point, Miss., and met another major production milestone in December 2021 when the fuselage and one-piece wing were mated in Palmdale, according to a release from the Falls Church, Virginia, aerospace and defense contractor. 

The aircraft is scheduled for production completion in 2023 and delivery to Australia in 2024, the release added. 

The Triton is based on the Global Hawk drone made by Northrop but features an improved airframe and wings to enable it to operate over the ocean, where it will provide surveillance of ships and submarine vessels. Triton can fly about 30 hours at an altitude of more than 10 miles above the earth at speeds of up to 380 miles per hour. The aircraft is flown remotely from a ground station by a crew of four.

The first two Tritons were deployed by the Navy in Guam nearly three years ago. 

Northrop will produce more than 60 of the aircraft for the U.S. Navy at a cost of more than $3 billion. Triton will be used in conjunction with the Boeing P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft. 

In June 2018, then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his country would buy six Triton aircraft and reserved the right to buy a seventh. 

Australia is a cooperative partner in the Triton program and was critical in helping shape the requirements for the system. As partners, U.S. and Australian defense forces will be able to share data collected by their Tritons, a critical capacity in one of the world’s most strategically important regions, the Teledyne release said. 

Air Marshal Robert Chipman, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, sad that the Triton drone aircraft would provide the air force with the capability to monitor and protect its maritime approaches.

“Triton will work alongside the P-8A Poseidon, and this unmanned aircraft system will allow us to cover significant areas, at longer ranges, and has the ability to stay airborne longer than a traditional aircraft,” Chipman said in a statement. 

Northrop’s family of autonomous HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) systems perform critical wide-area intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) missions. Today, autonomous HALE systems operate across the globe collecting essential ISR&T data over land and sea to enable rapid, informed decision-making, the company said in its release.

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