The US Navy is to begin an operational assessment of its Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicle in September, ultimately paving the way for the start of low rate initial production of the type.
Expected to take two months to complete, the testing will take place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. If it is successful it will lead to the so-called Milestone C decision, which triggers the award of an initial production contract – anticipated in the second quarter of the 2016 fiscal year.
Initial operational capability is also expected to be declared in 2018 in accordance with the programme schedule, says Sean Burke, Triton programme manager at the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).
Meanwhile, electromagnetic compatibility testing of the high-altitude, long-endurance UAV has recently commenced. The MQ-4C has been lifted inside Patuxent River’s anechoic chamber for a series of trials – to last around eight weeks – to ensure its installed systems do not interfere with each other.
Triton in the anechoic chamber
This is the first time that an unmanned system has been controlled from outside the chamber, says NAVAIR.
Apart from the USN the only other customer is the Royal Australian Air Force, which will acquire up to seven of the type to complement its fleet of on-order Boeing P-8 Poseidons. The RAAF deal is subject to completion of the navy's development programme, however.