Navy’s Triton in Operational Assessment for Early Deployment this Summer
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy’s MQ-4C Triton has entered operational assessment in preparation for its early operational capability deployment to Guam this summer.
The Northrop Grumman-built Triton will be performing “regular operational missions by the end of [fiscal 2018],” said Capt. Dan Mackin, the Navy’s Triton program manager, speaking to reporters April 9 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition at National Harbor.
The Navy’s first Triton squadron, Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19, will deploy two MQ-4Cs to Guam this summer. Guam will then serve as the first permanent deployment site — the Navy calls them “orbits” — which eventually will have four Tritons on site to enable a 24/7 surveillance orbit over the Pacific Ocean. The MQ-4C will achieve initial operational capability when that four-aircraft orbit is in place, estimated to occur in 2021.
Mackin listed the order of future orbits after Guam: Sigonella, Sicily; a site in the U.S. Central Command area of operations; Mayport, Florida; and Whidbey Island, Washington. Mackin said the production rate of the Triton — about three per year — will govern the rate at which the orbits are established.
He also said that when the Triton orbit is established in the U.S. Central Command area, it will succeed the Navy’s RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles deployed as the Broad-Area Maritime System Demonstration since 2009.
The EOC deployment to Guam will feature the Baseline MQ-4C. The Multi-Int [Intelligence] capability, with top-secret collection and communications capability of signals intelligence data, is in development and is scheduled to be fielded in 2023 or 2024.
The Navy also is developing a sense-and-avoid capability to prevent mid-air collisions with the Triton, also planned for fielding in 2023 or 2024.
The MQ-4C and the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft together will replace the Navy’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and the EP-3E electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The Triton and Poseidon will be able to operate in a teaming arrangement, exchanging data over data links such as Link 16 and the Common Data Link.
The Baseline Triton is equipped with a multi-function radar, an electro-optical sensor, an electronic surveillance system, and the automatic identification system. Mackin said the Navy is considering other technology for the Triton in the future beyond the future Multi-Int capability.
He said the Triton will not only provide surveillance but also “shorten the sensor-to-shooter kill chain.”