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US GAO says MQ-4C Triton UAV development cost grows

10 May 2019
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The US GAO said in its most recent annual weapons assessment that development costs for the USN MQ-4C Triton UAV grew 2% from FY 2018. Source: Northrop Grumman

Key Points

  • A US congressional watchdog said Triton UAV development has grown by 2% from last year
  • Wing development has been challenging due to the difficult maritime environment in which the aircraft will fly

Development costs for the US Navy’s (USN’s) MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) grew 2% from fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) and are now predicted to cost 61% more than originally estimated in 2009, according Congress’ watchdog.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its most recent annual weapon system assessment, released 9 May, that the latest development cost estimate for the Triton, in FY 2019 dollars, is USD5.67 billion. The original cost estimate, also in FY 2019 dollars, from 2009 was USD3.5 billion. In comparison, the FY 2018 GAO weapon system assessment said development costs were up 59% compared with the original cost estimate.

Triton will be a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) surveillance aircraft based on the design of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV. It will be operated from five land-based sites and provide the navy with persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data collection and dissemination capability, according to the GAO.

The GAO said issues with wing production posed continued risk to the Triton’s production schedule, quality, and cost. For example, programme officials told the GAO that the contractor reduced defects by 68% between the wings manufactured for the last system development test article, the sixth aircraft to be produced, and those manufactured for the 10th aircraft. Triumph Aerostructures is developing the wings. Northrop Grumman is working under a cost-plus contract for Triton development.

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