Northrop Grumman says Australia should consider advancing its acquisition of the US Navy’s MQ-4C Triton UAV following the Trump administration’s proposal to pause production for the programme in FY2021 and FY2022.
While pausing production, the administration wants instead to focus on the MQ-4C’s improved multi-intelligence configuration, designated IFC-4. The budget is subject to congressional approval.
“The proposed production pause may represent an opportunity for the Australian government to bring the Triton capability forward, while ensuring affordability,” says Chris Deeble, Australian country executive for Northrop Grumman.
“Production slots opened up by the US Navy could potentially be filled by Australian aircraft. This would ensure earlier delivery of assets to Australia while protecting affordability for both Australia and the United States.”
Deeble stressed that the Triton is still foreseen as being in the US government’s FY2023 budget, but adds that “no one can commit to that 2023 timeframe because the US budgetary cycle does it on a 12-month basis.” Overall, the company believes that the US Navy is still committed to operating 68 examples.
The Triton has long been a feature of Canberra’s plans for monitoring its oceanic frontier. In 2018 it confirmed that it would obtain six examples, with the first to enter service in mid-2023 and with all six to be in operation by late 2025.
Should Canberra decide to take US Navy production slots, deliveries would fall during the same timeframe as previously. The Australian assets would have the IFC-4 capability, which is now being in the process of being integrated into two US Navy Tritons.
The proposal would see all six of Australia’s Tritons come from low-rate, initial-product lot five (LRIP 5). Previously, only one Australian Triton was earmarked for LRIP five, with the following aircraft coming from subsequent lots.
Should Canberra decide not to take up Northrop’s proposal, the company says that its industrial base could suffer, and increase the cost of the platform.
Australia’s Department of Defence (DoD) points out that the cut in Triton production funding has not been finalised by the US Congress.
“Until the legislation is approved, the pause on Triton funding is not confirmed,” says the DoD.
“As a cooperative partner in the Triton program, the Department is working closely with both the US Navy and Northrop Grumman to understand impacts on the Australia’s Maritime Patrol Program (which includes the Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft and Triton). There are no Australian Tritons currently in production and no decision has been made by the Australian Government to defer elements of the Triton Program.”