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Australia to acquire 4th Triton, upgrade P-8A Poseidon fleet

The Australian government has approved the acquisition of a fourth MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), and upgrades to the RAAF’s fleet of 14 P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA).

The estimated combined value of these decisions is over $1.5 billion.

The MQ-4C Triton will provide long-range, persistent surveillance across Australia’s maritime region and contribute to the creation and maintenance of a single Common Operating Picture. Its long-range sensor suite, which includes a Multi-Function Active Sensor radar, Electro-Optic Infrared, Electronic Support Measures and Automatic Identification System, all with a 360-degree field of regard, allows it to detect, classify and track maritime targets well outside the detection and engagement range of enemy ships and surface-to-air missiles.

The first aircraft, including the relevant ground and support systems, is due to be delivered to Australia in 2024. Defence is developing, producing and sustaining the MQ-4C capability under a Cooperative Program with the US Navy and is acquiring the RPAS under a US Foreign Military sales (FMS) deal.

“The purchase of an additional Triton will enhance operations from Australia’s northern bases, a priority under the Defence Strategic Review,” said Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy. “The upgrades to the fleet of Poseidon aircraft strengthens our ability to secure and protect Australia’s maritime interests.

“Australian industry can expect more work and opportunities to develop a highly skilled workforce through sustaining these aircraft, helping to ensure our Defence personnel have the capabilities they need to keep Australians safe.”

Flying at more than 50,000 feet and with an endurance 24 hours, the MQ-4C Triton is able to surveil up to 4 million nautical square miles in a single mission. When in Australian service, the Triton aircraft will be based at RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory, and operated by the newly reformed 9 Squadron, located at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.

In June 2022 the original MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) returned to its home base at Naval Air Station Patuxent Rover near Washington after a 13-year deployment with the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. The deployment was initially meant to be just a 6-month concept demonstration, but this was extended repeatedly. BAMS-D provided more than 50 percent of maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in theatre, accruing over 42,500 flight hours in 2,069 missions, according to US Naval Air Systems Command.

The Northrop Grumman-manufactured MQ-4C Triton aircraft are being developed and acquired by the ADF in cooperation with the US Navy. The MQ-4C Triton achieved early operational capability in May 2020 serving with the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet; on 14 September the US Navy announced Triton had achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC).

Australia’s Boeing P-8A Poseidon fleet will be upgraded, delivering enhancements to its anti-submarine warfare, maritime strike and intelligence collection capabilities, says Defence. The first Poseidon aircraft is expected to enter the upgrade program in 2026, with the final aircraft to be completed in 2030.

The ADF will work with Boeing Defence Australia on options for domestic installation of the new Poseidon capabilities, increasing Australian industry opportunities.

In addition, the signing of an Interim Sustainment Support Contract with Northrop Grumman Australia valued at $220 million will establish a strong maintenance workforce at RAAF Base Tindal and RAAF Base Edinburgh for the fleet of Triton aircraft.

Throughout their life, the P-8A Poseidon and MQ-4C Triton fleets will contribute over $1.4 billion in acquisition and at least $6 billion in sustainment to Australian industry.

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