The MQ-4C "Triton" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) represents a "navalized" form of the original Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk with a few internal and external changes to suit the roles of maritime patrol, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare. The Triton is currently in development with five examples having been converted from existing RQ-4 systems for trials. The United States Navy is intending to procure some 68 MQ-4C aircraft which will stock its readiness fleet of 22 vehicles in the near future. The Triton UAV will work in conjunction with the Navy's streamlined maritime service force that now includes the up and coming Boeing P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare aircraft.
The Triton is scheduled to be trialled through five BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Block 10 - Demonstrator) development aircraft of which one has already been lost to accident following take-off in June of 2012. Onboard systems will include a Multifunction Active Sensor Active, Electronically Steered Array (MFAS AESA) radar suite with a 360-degree traversing function as well as an underfuselage, nose-mounted electro-optic/infrared video turret by Raytheon. The MFAS AESA has been trialed itself on a Gulfstream II series aircraft. The MQ-4C will also be outfitted with a VHF-based identification system allowing it to identify positions of maritime vessels in real-time.
While the finalized MQ-4C form will largely resemble the original RQ-4 Global Hawk and BAMS-D demonstrators, it will feature several notable changes to its overall design. The MQ-4C will showcase a bulged belly fairing containing the expected radar array as well as a small chin protrusion visual tracking system. The engine inlet will be encased in titanium while the wings, also longer in span, will be further reinforced for the rigors of over-water flight. Beyond these notable exceptions, the Triton will exhibit the same general external form as the original Global Hawk including its spine-mounted single engine fitting, straight wing appendages, retractable tricycle undercarriage and outward-canted vertical tail fins. Unlike the smaller Predator and Reaper UAVs, the Global Hawk/Triton family is not armed beyond its sophisticated suites of sensors, cameras and communications equipment.
Operationally, the Triton will be called upon to reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and stay on station for up to 30 hours - allowing for interrupted sorties that could theoretically span weeks on end. Operational ranges call for the coverage of 2,300 miles (2,000nm), drawing propulsion from 1 x Rolls-Royce AE 3007 series turbofan engine of 6,500lb to 9,000lb thrust. Maximum speed will be under 360 miles per hour with a maximum service ceiling listed at 60,000 feet. Four personnel will manage the ground station aspect of the Triton's function.
The goal of the Triton program is to provide the US Navy with a manageable, multi-role UAV solution that can relieve pilots of similar mission roles and retire use of more complicated, aged and expensive-to-maintain aircraft. With threatened military budgets beginning to appearing worldwide, the US Navy is forced to streamline its global activities to an extent. Considering the growing threat of instability in the Asian region, the power of the US Navy might come into play in the near future and systems such as the Triton will be put to good use.
The US Navy is planning for its fleet of Triton UAVs to be actively operational in service in 2015. First flight of an MQ-4C is expected by the end of 2012. The official unveiling took place in June of 2012. Some 30 testbed Triton aircraft are expected to be purchased. Tritons are scheduled to operate from bases in Hawaii, California, Florida, Italy, Japan and the British Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia).
The BAMS program has netted Northrop Grumman a $1.16 billion procurement contract.