Northrop Grumman readies to build three new MQ-4C unmanned surveillance aircraft for maritime patrol

Surveillance experts at Northrop Grumman ready to build three MQ-4C Triton long-range maritime patrol unmanned aircraft in $65.2 million contract.

The U.S. Navy Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is a large whale-like unmanned aircraft designed for long-range surveillance and maritime patrol.
The U.S. Navy Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is a large whale-like unmanned aircraft designed for long-range surveillance and maritime patrol.
Navy photo

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – Maritime aviation surveillance experts at Northrop Grumman Corp. are preparing to build three MQ-4C Triton long-range patrol unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) under terms of a $65.2 million advance-acquisition contract announced Wednesday.

Official of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., are asking the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector in San Diego to provide long-lead items for three low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 5 MQ-4C Triton UAVs -- two for the Navy and one for the government of Australia.

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 to enable coverage out to 2,000 nautical miles. The UAV's suite of sensors can detect and classify different types of ships automatically.

This contract also provides equipment and materials for three MQ-4C ground stations -- two for the Navy, and one for the government of Australia. Long-lead items either are difficult and time-consuming to obtain, and are funded early in the design process to keep overall production on schedule. Contracts to build the actual maritime patrol UAVs will come later.

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 will work together with the Navy's P-8A Poseidon manned maritime patrol aircraft.

Related: Western Pacific is becoming a dense concentration of unmanned surveillance assets

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 geographic area while providing all-weather coverage for detecting, classifying, tracking, and identifying points 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.

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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.

Northrop Grumman has delivered two MQ-4Cs to the Navy’s Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 detachment at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. The Triton originally was scheduled to reach early operational capability last year with a deployment to Guam, but the deployment was put on hold after one of the MQ-4Cs was damaged in a landing mishap at Point Mugu last September when the unmanned aircraft made a gear-up landing.

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.

Related: Triton maritime surveillance UAV technology upgrades: Navy's just getting started

The MQ-4C Triton's ability to perform persistent ISR within a practical range of 2,000 nautical miles enables the P-8A aircraft to focus on anti-surface ship warfare, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and multi-intelligence. The Triton can fly as far as 8,200 nautical miles without refueling.

Triton aircraft and support facilities are 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.

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; Salt Lake City; Baltimore; Waco, Texas; Bridgeport, W.Va.; Red Oak, Texas; and at other Continental U.S. locations, and should be finished by June 2020.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems online at www.northropgrumman.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

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