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Monday, May 23, 2022

This Drone Perfect for The Storm

Looking at the Global Hawk and MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft made by Northrop Grumman Corp., the two planes look identical. Inside, however, the similarities end. The Global Hawk was built for the U.S. Air Force as a high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft with the ability to stay in flight for up to 32 hours. Triton, a new drone built for the U.S. Navy at Northrop’s Palmdale manufacturing facility, makes improvements to the airframe and wings to accomplish a different mission: maritime surveillance of ships and submarine vessels on the high seas. “This is an unbelievable system in terms of its capabilities as it is networked across the world to bring real-time information,” said Mike Mackey, the Triton program manager based in San Diego. Three Triton demonstration aircraft have been built so far on the same assembly line used for the Global Hawk. By October the planes, two owned by the Navy, one owned by Northrop, will have relocated to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland for testing. Northrop will produce more than 60 of the aircraft for the 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. What sets Triton apart from the Global Hawk are the 130-foot long wings, which were strengthened to handle strong winds when descending to lower altitudes to get a better look at ships and other vessels. Anti-icing equipment was added to the engines and wings, as well as lightning protection. On the bottom of the aircraft is a new type of sensor giving 360-degree coverage at long and short ranges to identify ships and submarines at sea and for scanning port areas to determine fleet size and strength. The sensor also can zero in on a geographic area of interest for longer periods to better detect smaller targets, particularly in sea clutter. Northrop began testing the sensor in 2011. “When you have this unblinking eye with multiple planes you get a strong idea of what is happening in a region or area,” Mackey said. Michael Blades, a senior industry analyst in aerospace and defense at the Mountain View office of consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, said there is some skepticism in the defense community about whether an unmanned aircraft is up to the task of maritime surveillance. He doesn’t agree. “Northrop Grumman is a smart company and has smart engineers,” Blades said. “(Triton) is going to be a viable system and work better than expected.” – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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