Australia is to acquire six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime unmanned aerial systems (UASs), with the first platform scheduled to enter service in mid-2023, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on 26 June.
All six Tritons are planned to be fully operational by late 2025, Turnbull disclosed in a joint statement with Defence Minister Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne.
“The Triton will complement the surveillance role of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft through sustained operations at long ranges as well as being able to undertake a range of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance tasks,” the statement said.
“Together, these aircraft will significantly enhance our anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike capability, as well as our search and rescue capability.”
Initial spending of AUD1.4 billion (USD1.04 billion) on Project Air 7000 Phase 1B will cover purchase of the first aircraft and AUD364 million will be spent on the construction of new operational and support facilities at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base Edinburgh near Adelaide and RAAF base Tindal in the Northern Territory, as well as on initial ground support equipment, training, and spares.
Total programme cost was not disclosed but is expected to be around AUD7 billion.
The initial amount also includes an AUD200 million investment in the US Navy-led Triton co-operative development programme.
“This co-operative programme will strengthen our ability to develop advanced capability and conduct joint military operations”, the joint statement said.
Together with the P-8A Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft, the high-altitude, long-endurance Tritons will replace the RAAF’s fleet of 19 AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft that entered service in the mid-1980s. The last of the Orions will be retired in 2023.
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