The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) first Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicle is poised to arrive in Australia, following extensive preparations and training.

The aircraft, AUS 1, has been with the US Navy (USN) at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland since February, says Australia’s Department of Defence.

RAAF MQ-4C Triton Northrop

Source: Northrop Grumman

The MQ-4C will improve Canberra’s long-range surveillance capabilities 

At Patuxent River the USN conducted final testing, fit out, and certification pending the aircraft’s flight to Australia. The aircraft’s maiden flight occurred on 9 November 2023 at Northrop’s Palmdale, California production facility.

Events leading up to the arrival of the Triton in Australia include the delivery of the aircraft’s forward operating base, which is based on a large mobile trailer, to RAAF Tindal in the country’s Northern Territory.

RAAF crews have also received extensive training from the USN in Jacksonville, Florida. Their training is identical to that received by USN counterparts – the USN also operates the Triton, a key intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

“These events form part of a complex series of processes, systems and technologies that have been integrated in preparation for AUS 1’s arrival on home soil; and in support of the additional aircraft that will be delivered to complete the RAAF MQ-4C Triton fleet,” says RAAF Group Captain Andrew Leahy, director of the Future Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems programme office.

Australia has committed to four Tritons, but previous assessments and Australia’s 2016 defence white paper have indicated that it is likely to obtain a total of six or seven.

The Triton will complement Australia’s fleet of Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, and also work in cooperation with Australian allies, namely the USA. It will be operated by 09 Sqn.

China’s massive naval build up and territorial aggression in the South China Sea and against neighbouring Taiwan have placed a premium on maritime domain awareness in Australia’s region.