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Australia to spend $7bn on six drones

By on 26 June, 2018

Two Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles at a Northrop Grumman test facility in Palmdale, California. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

Anew partnership with the US Navy will see Australian defence purchase a fleet of long range Triton drones for maritime surveillance of the waters surrounding Australia’s continental border and the Asia-Pacific region, with the first system to be delivered in 2023.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that the estimated cost of the entire fleet and associated infrastructure will total almost $7 billion, with the Government’s investment in the first of these six aircraft coming in at a cost of $1.4 billion.

$364 million of this initial spend will go towards additional facilities at RAAF Bases Edinburgh and Tindal, support, training and ground control systems to bring the first Triton system online.

The Northrop-Grumman MQ-4C Triton is designed to provide continuous maritime surveillance over vast coastal and ocean regions, and each can fly for up to 30 hours at an altitude of 55,000 feet (17,000 metres).

Its primary surveillance sensor is an AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) X-band AESA radar, which is capable of a 360-degree field-of-regard, allowing a MQ-4C Triton to survey over 7 million square kilometres of ocean within a 24-hour period.

The aircraft is capable of quick descents, and at low altitude can use its Raytheon MTS-B multi-spectral EO/IR sensor, which can automatically track objects picked up by the MFAS, and can stream live vision to ground forces with its optical sensor suite.

It has an onboard AIS (Automatic Identification System) that can classify vessels without the intervention of an operator, and its radar can be operated in inverse synthetic aperture mode, allowing it to make detections in all weather conditions.

$200 million of the initial defence spend is allocated to a cooperative partnership with the US Navy to further development, production and sustainment of the MQ-4C Triton. The Australian fleet of these massive spy drones will complement its fleet of Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft, seven of which have been delivered.

The full fleet of 12 Poseidons will be delivered and operational by 2022, with all six Tritons anticipated to be in operation by late 2025.

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