The Navy plans to deploy its new MQ-4C Triton long-range surveillance unmanned aircraft to the Middle East in 2016, Rear Adm. Sean Buck, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, said Thursday in a call with reporters following Wednesday’s first successful Triton flight.
By then, the Navy hopes to have up to three of the Northrop Grumman aircraft to patrol the service’s 5th Fleet area of responsibility to replace the single forward deployed Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) currently in the region, Buck said.
“The intent is to introduce an operational orbit of Tritons in the fleet area sometime after,” he said.
The so-called initial operational capability will be later than Naval Air Systems Command initial 2015 IOC date and will include three of the four aircraft needed to have a consistent orbit over the region. For the Navy to have uninterrupted service, an orbit requires four aircraft. The current lone BAMS-D flies every third day.
The planned 68 Tritons, similar to the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft, are specially designed to patrol maritime regions. Conceptually, the aircraft is designed to work with the P-8A Poseidon manned aircraft.
“Triton was envisioned to be a complimentary teammate to the manned Poseidon aircraft and to take about 30 percent of the traditional historic surveillance mission for the maritime aviation community,” Buck said.
“It will provide the long dwell persistent stare in the maritime to support our fleet as the fleet is positioned and moves and projects any type of power in a particular area around the world.”
Tritons are anticipated to operate forward from Naval Air Station Sigonnella, Italy, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and an undisclosed location in the Middle East, NAVAIR told USNI News on Wednesday.
Once Triton enters 5th Fleet, additional orbits will begin in 7th Fleet from Guam, then in 6th Fleet in Sigonnella and finally on the continental U.S.
The Navy plans for a single Triton orbit to monitor up to 2,000 nautical miles at a time allowing U.S. forces access to real time radar, video and signals intelligence.