Navy improving wide-area ocean surveillance and ISR with orders for more Triton UAS

Jan. 8, 2018
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – U.S. Navy aviation surveillance experts are ordering three more MQ-4C Triton long-range and long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions.
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – U.S. Navy aviation surveillance experts are ordering three more MQ-4C Triton long-range and long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $255.3 million order last week to the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector in San Diego for the three Triton low-rate initial production UAVs as part of the third lot of Triton production.

Northrop Grumman is building the MQ-4C Triton, also called the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV, to fly maritime surveillance missions as long as 24 hours at altitudes of more than 10 miles high to enable coverage out to 2,000 nautical miles. The UAV's suite of sensors can detect and classify different types of surface ships automatically.

The Triton will be a crucial component of the Navy's 21st century strategy for conducting surveillance of surface ship and submarine traffic in the vast Pacific and other oceans around the globe. The Triton UAV can work together with the Navy's P-8A Poseidon manned maritime patrol aircraft.

The Triton's maritime search radar is called the Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS), and will provide the UAV and its operators with a 360-degree view of a large maritime area while providing all-weather coverage for detecting, classifying, tracking, and identifying surface ships and other targets of interest. MFAS is separate from the Triton's air-to-air radar. The MFAS radar first flew on the Triton during testing in April 2015.

Related: Raytheon to provide multispectral sensor system for Navy MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance UAV

Along with the air-to-air and MFAS radar systems, the MQ-4C will carry an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor that will provide still imagery and full-motion video of potential threats; an electronic support measures package to identify and geolocate radar threat signals; and an automatic identification system (AIS) that will detect and track vessels equipped with AIS responders.

The Navy took delivery of the first operational MQ-4C unmanned aircraft last November to Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. Last week's order is for the seventh, eighth, and ninth operational MQ-4C Triton surveillance UAVs. Ultimately the Navy wants to buy 68 Tritons.

The MQ-4C Triton is designed to provide combat information to military authorities like the expeditionary strike group, carrier strike group, and the joint forces maritime component commander. The Triton air vehicle is based on the U.S. Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk, while its sensors are based on components and systems already fielded in the U.S. military.

The large unmanned aircraft provides intelligence for large ocean areas to maintain the common operational and tactical picture of the maritime battle space. The Triton feeds intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data to the Global Information Grid (GIG), and can work alone or together with other aircraft and surface ships.

The MQ-4C Triton's ability to perform persistent ISR within a practical range of 2,000 nautical miles enables the Navy's manned P-8A aircraft to focus on anti-surface ship warfare, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and multi-intelligence.

Related: Northrop Grumman to enhance MQ-4C Triton UAV air-to-air radar

The Triton is based on the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, and its autonomous operations are by land-based command-and-control mission planners and sensor operators.

Triton has a reinforced airframe and wing for internal payload and for hail, bird strike, and gust load protection. The large UAV can descend and ascend through harsh maritime weather to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when necessary. Triton will perform missions including maritime ISR patrol, signals intelligence, search and rescue, and communications relay.

Triton aircraft and support facilities are being based domestically at Point Mugu Naval Air Station near Ventura, Calif., and at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Fla. Triton UAVs also will be forward-deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Sigonella Naval Air Station, Italy; as well as at installations on the islands of Hawaii and Diego Garcia.

The Triton UAV has a Rolls-Royce AE3007H jet engine, can remain aloft for as long as 24 hours, can fly as fast as 320 knots, and fly as high as 60,000 feet. The unmanned aircraft is 47.6 feet long, 15.4 feet high, has a wingspan of 130.9 feet, and has a maximum takeoff weight of 32,250 pounds. It can carry as much as 17,300 pounds of fuel, sensors, and other payloads.

Related: MQ-4C UAV moves closer to operating safely in civil airspace with sense-and-avoid capability

The Triton has a ground crew of four -- an air vehicle operator, tactical coordinator, and two mission payload operators. Triton development began in early 2008 with a $1.2 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to design and build two Triton UAVs with mission payloads and communications suites; one forward operating base mission control system; one systems integration laboratory; and one main operating base mission control system.

On this contract Northrop Grumman will do the work in San Diego and Palmdale, Calif.; Red Oak, Texas; Baltimore; Salt Lake City; Bridgeport, W.Va.; Indianapolis; Moss Point, Miss.; and other locations in the continental U.S., and should be finished by December 2021.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems online at, or Naval Air Systems Command at

Ready to make a purchase? Search the Military & Aerospace Electronics Buyer's Guide for companies, new products, press releases, and videos

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!