AUVSI: US Navy pauses development of MQ-4C Triton 'sense and avoid' radar

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The US Navy has paused the development of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton's "sense and avoid" radar system that would enable it 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 is behind schedule and over budget.

"We have made a decision to pause of the development of that capability," says Capt Jim Hoke, the Naval Air Systems Command program manager for the Triton. "It remains a requirement to the navy and to our program, but we need to take a hard look at the path going forward based on where we are on the technology perspective." The decision to defer the sense and avoid radar is due to both budgetary pressures and technology, Hoke says.

At present, the radar is not integrated on the Triton, Hoke says. The system will have to be cut into production at a later date, he says. The USN is working with Northrop to determine what its best option when to cut a sense-and-avoid system into the MQ-4C production line, but fundamental problems remain.

"We just have to make sure it's the right system, it's an affordable system and that it's going to take care of the things that we need it to take care of," Hoke says. "We have not answered all those questions yet."

Hoke says all options are on the table and potentially the entire effort could recompleted from scratch. Potentially, radar contractor ITT Exelis could lose its place as the sense and avoid system supplier. "Right now I'm waiting for Northrop Grumman to come back to me and brief what are our potential options going forward," Hoke says.

Hoke says, however, he is fully cognizant of how important the sense and avoid technology is to the US Pacific Command and USN 6th Fleet commanders. Commanders of those forces have said a sense and avoid system is critical for their operations.