Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton
|The prototype MQ-4C on its first flight|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||22 May 2013|
|Primary user||United States Navy|
|Number built||68 (planned) + 2 prototypes|
|Program cost||US$13,240.9m (as of FY13)|
|Developed from||Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk|
The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) under development for the United States Navy as a surveillance aircraft. In tandem with its associated ground control station, it is considered an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). Developed under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program, the system is intended to provide real-time intelligence, reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions, continuous maritime surveillance, as well as search and rescue missions, for the U.S. Navy, and to complement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, but the equipment to link the two platforms is currently unfunded. Triton builds on elements of the Global Hawk UAS while incorporating reinforcements to the air frame and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems. These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed. The current sensor suites allow ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location, and classification.
The MQ-4C System Development and Demonstration (SDD) aircraft was delivered in 2012 and the MQ-4C UAS was originally expected to be operational by late 2015 with a total of 68 aircraft to be procured. However, in April 2013, the Navy announced that production has shifted from FY14 to FY15 due to additional testing requirements and technical issues related to the aircraft's double-tail vertical stabilizer and rudder, and software integration for maritime sensors. According to the latest information available from the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the MQ-4C UAS is now planned for 2017.
- Provides persistent maritime ISR 24 hours/7 days per week with 80% Effective Time on Station (ETOS)
- AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) with active electronically scanned array
- Land-based air vehicle and sensor command and control
- 51,000-hour airframe life
- Due regard radar for safe separation
- Commercial off-the-shelf open architecture mission control system
- Net-ready interoperability solution (systems working together)
- Communications bandwidth management
- Dual redundant flight controls and surfaces
- Afloat Level II payload sensor data via line-of-sight
The competitors for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) contract included:
- Boeing, with an unmanned version of the Gulfstream G550 business jet. It was optionally manned and has "commonality with other Boeing-built naval aircraft."
- Northrop Grumman, with a navalized RQ-4 Global Hawk. In order to begin testing the surveillance package early, Northrop Grumman contracted with Flight Test Associates of the Mojave Spaceport to modify a Grumman Gulfstream II as a flying testbed.
- Lockheed Martin, with a General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner
The BAMS UAS was acquired for the U.S. Navy as a Department of Defense Acquisition Category (ACAT) 1D program and on April 22, 2008, Northrop Grumman received the BAMS contract worth $1.16 billion. Lockheed Martin filed a formal protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) two weeks later. On August 11, 2008 the GAO ruled to uphold the Navy’s selection of Northrop Grumman. In September 2010, the BAMS aircraft was designated the MQ-4C.
Official unveiling took place on 14 June 2012 at Palmdale, California. During the event, it was announced that the Navy had approved the name "Triton" for the aircraft. The first flight of the MQ-4C by aircraft Bureau Number (BuNo) 168457 took place on 22 May 2013, followed by subsequent test flights at Edwards AFB, California and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was planned for December 2015 and has now slipped to 2017.
The U.S. Navy plans an eventual fleet of 68 MQ-4Cs and 117 P-8As to replace the aging P-3C Orion force. Around 40 MQ-4Cs will be based at various sites, predominantly home stations or overseas deployment sites for Navy P-8A and P-3C aircraft. This includes a to be determined location in Hawaii (most likely MCAS Kaneohe Bay); NAS Jacksonville, Florida; Kadena Air Base, Japan; NAS Point Mugu, California, and NAS Sigonella, Italy. The Air Force Times reported on 14 September 2012, that the system will also be stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
In August 2013, the Navy paused the development of the "sense and avoid" radar system that would enable the MQ-4C to avoid other aircraft traffic. The Triton would have been the first unmanned aircraft to be fitted with an airborne sense and avoid solution, but the system was behind schedule and over budget. The radar system remains a requirement in the program, but budgetary and technology pressures have forced the Navy to defer integrating it onto the aircraft. The Navy and Northrop Grumman are working to determine when the sense-and-avoid system can be cut into the production line. The Navy restarted the competition for a sense-and-avoid radar for the Triton in November 2014 with less ambitious requirements, such as receiving data from ground radars as it approaches an airport and a modular and scalable design that can be incrementally improved to meet evolving future operational and air traffic management requirements.
On 6 September 2013, the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a $9.98 million contract for maintenance and support of the MQ-4C SDD aircraft to enable it to fly 15 missions per month, an increase from 9 per month as previously planned, with senior Navy commanders wanting to keep closer tabs on activities in the ocean and coastal regions of the Middle East.
The Navy began considering in September 2014 cutting the number of Tritons it will buy. The plan has been to have 20 operational MQ-4C aircraft operational at any one time, with the rest of the 68-plane order force being spares. Due to the improved reliability of the aircraft, budget pressures may force the Navy to trim the numbers of aircraft it will order.
Australia has considered the MQ-4, both as a military platform and as customs enforcement platform; senior customs officials have doubted the effectiveness of the planned seven MQ-4C to detect small boats in the country's northern waters, especially through cloud cover. In 2013, Air Marshall Geoff Brown, head of the Royal Australian Air Force, stated that Australia was considering purchasing more manned P-8 Poseidon aircraft and reducing the number of MQ-4Cs planned to be bought for the RAAF. On 16 February 2014, it was reported that the Australian government would seek the purchase of seven MQ-4C Tritons; in addition to locating ships and aircraft, it would also be used to detect seaborne asylum seekers. Alongside the P-8, the MQ-4 is to replace the elderly P-3 Orion fleet.
On 13 March 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Australia's intention to buy the MQ-4C Triton and become its first foreign customer. The announcement was made at RAAF Base Edinburgh, the base of the country's fleet of 18 AP-3C Orion aircraft it will replace. The Triton buy is part of the Australian Defense Forces' Project Air 7000 two-phase Orion replacement program; Phase 1B entails procuring the Triton UAS, and Phase 2B is the acquisition of 8-12 manned P-8A Poseidons in 2017. RAAF Tritons and Poseidons will be used in a similar complementary fashion as with U.S. Navy operation, where the MQ-4C performs high-altitude broad area surveillance missions, allowing the P-8A to be more dedicated to anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue response, and electronic intelligence missions. The exact number and introduction date for Australian Triton airframes will be revealed in a new government Defence White Paper in early 2015, but numbers are believed to be between six and eight aircraft with introduction around 2020. The deal can be affected by its U.S. Navy development completion.
The MQ-4C Triton performed its first flight on 22 May 2013 from United States Air Force Plant 42 / Palmdale Regional Airport, California. The flight lasted 1 hour 20 minutes and the aircraft reached an altitude of 20,000 ft.
On 6 January 2014, Northrop Grumman announced that the MQ-4C had completed 9 test flights with 46 hours of flight time. Half of its envelope expansion testing, which included evaluating the aircraft at different altitudes, speeds, and weights, had been completed. Some flights lasted over 9 hours and reached 50,000 ft. A second Triton aircraft was to fly by March or April 2014. Initial envelope expansion testing was completed in March 2014 through 13 flights, 81 flight hours, and reaching altitudes of 59,900 ft.
On 18 September 2014, the Triton successfully conducted an 11-hour cross-country flight from Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, California facility to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. The cross-country flight test had been previously postponed twice due to bad weather. The aircraft flew a pre-approved instrument route along the southern U.S. border, crossing the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, then was directed north along the Atlantic coast and up the Chesapeake Bay, a distance of 3,290 nmi (3,790 mi; 6,090 km) at 50,000 ft (15,000 m) to avoid commercial air traffic. A test fleet of three Tritons completed 15 flights demonstrating speed and altitude capabilities prior to the trans-continental mission. With the completion of the cross-country flight, the MQ-4C program transitions from initial safety flight testing to validating its ability to perform operational missions over the ocean. Operations from Patuxent River in the coming weeks will test the aircraft's sensors, communications, interoperability, and expanded envelope flight coverage. The three test Tritons are scheduled to fly a total of 2,000 hours before reaching initial operating capability.
The second MQ-4C Triton model flew on 16 October 2014, 17 months after the first model's first flight. It is being prepped to perform the cross-country flight later in the month that the first aircraft performed the previous month. A third model is also bring prepared to start flights; the third was planned to be funded by the Navy but was lost to budget cuts, so Northrop Grumman decided to self-fund production of the third prototype.
Fleet operational evaluation and introduction
On 7 February 2013, the U.S. Navy announced that it would stand up Unmanned Patrol Squadron NINETEEN (VUP-19) at NAS Jacksonville, Florida on 1 October 2013, to eventually operate the MQ-4C as the Navy's first Triton squadron. A detachment of VUP-19 will also be established at NAS Point Mugu, California. VUP-19 will fall under the administrative control of Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing ELEVEN (CPRW-11) at NAS Jacksonville, where an MQ-4C mission control facility is also under construction, and will initially operate the Triton on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions for the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Southwest Asia/Middle East/East Africa region, the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, and U.S. Fleet Forces Command in western Atlantic operations. In 2014, the Navy will activate a second Triton squadron, VUP-11, to take over operations in the Pacific in support of U.S. 7th Fleet and share U.S. 5th Fleet operations with VUP-19.
Data from 
- Crew: Aircraft is unmanned; 4 personnel required per ground station
- Length: 47.6 ft in (14.5 m)
- Wingspan: 130.9 ft in (39.9 m)
- Height: 15.3 ft in (4.6 m)
- Gross weight: 32,250 lb (14,630 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce AE 3007 turbofan, 6,495-8,917 lbf (28.9-39.7 kN)
- Maximum speed: 357 mph (575 km/h)
- Endurance: 24 hours
- Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,288 m)
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
- "GAO-13-294SP DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs". US Government Accountability Office. March 2013. pp. 103–4. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- Freedberg Jr., Sydney J. (1 October 2014). "Triton, Poseidon, & UCLASS: The Navy’s ISR Balancing Act". breakingdefense.com (Breaking Media, Inc.). Retrieved 3 October 2014.
- "P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA)". U.S. Navy Fact File. United States Navy. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- MQ-4C Triton: Persistent Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
- "MQ-4C Triton Datasheet". Northrop Grumman.
- Defence Systems – Daily, October 1, 2007.
- Boeing / Gulfstream 550 BAMS
- "Boeing envisions ‘maritime ISR triad’". C4ISR Journal, Defense News. Gannett Government Media Corporation. 12 September 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) (22 April 2008). "Navy Awards Northrop Grumman Unmanned Aircraft System Contract" (News Release). U.S. Department of Defense. U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Stephen Trimble (5 May 2008). "Lockheed protests USN BAMS award". Flightglobal. Reed Elsevier v 184.108.40.206. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- NAV Air News Release - BAMS UAS program resumes
- "BAMS given MQ-4C designation". Naval Air Systems Command. U.S. Department of Defense System. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Aviation Week & Space Technology 18 June 2012
- Aviation Week and Space Technology 18 June 2012
- "Maritime surveillance unit may be based at Naval Base Ventura County" (VC Star, 10 May 2012)
- Air Force Times, 14 September 2012
- US Navy pauses development of MQ-4C Triton 'sense and avoid' radar - Flightglobal.com, 15 August 2013
- US Navy re-starts sense and avoid radar for MQ-4C - Flightglobal.com, 4 November 2014
- U.S. Navy Expands Surveillance Mission for Northrop Grumman-Built Maritime Unmanned Aircraft - sUASNews.com, 19 September 2013
- Navy says may trim Northrop drone order due to better reliability - Reuters.com, 23 September 2014
- UAV not best choice for finding boats - sUASNews.com, 3 July 2013
- Australia plans to procure more P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) than planned, reducing MQ-4C Triton UAS order - Airrecognition.com, 18 July 2013
- Australia to buy seven MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft Systems - Navyrecognition.com, 16 February 2014
- Australia to buy MQ-4C Triton - Flightglobal.com, 13 March 2014
- Navy’s High-Flying Spy Drone Completes Its First Flight - Wired.com, 22 May 2013
- Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton makes first flight - Flightglobal.com, 22 May 2013
- MQ-4C testing continues as USA considers broader mission - Flightglobal.com, 7 January 2014
- MQ-4C Triton clears initial envelope expansion tests - Flightglobal.com, 25 March 2014
- US Navy's Triton UAV makes first cross-country flight - Flightglobal.com, 18 September 2014
- Northrop Grumman flies second MQ-4C prototype - Flightglobal.com, 16 October 2014
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to MQ-4C Triton.|
- Northrop Grumman BAMS contender web site
- Boeing / Gulfstream BAMS contender presentation This link is not working 29 Oct 10
- MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAS, United States of America
- Lockheed Martin BAMS product web site
- Flight Test Associates web site