ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
AUSTRALIAN AIRSHOW NEWS: Australia Welcomes Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, Triton to Avalon (UPDATED)
Photo: Stew Magnuson
GEELONG, Australia — A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle made its first daytime landing at an airshow Feb. 28.
U.S. Air Force pilots at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, remotely guided the UAV to a textbook landing in high winds and 100 degree heat at Avalon — the Australian International Airshow — as a crowd of aviation enthusiasts applauded and Queen's song, "Somebody to Love," blared over the loudspeakers. As it taxied past the flight line, it passed by a full-scale model of the next-generation HALE system, the MQ-4C Triton. Both are built by Northrop Grumman Corp.
“Seeing what it can do as a Global Hawk will give you an idea of what Triton will be able to do for Australia,” said Brian Chappel, sector vice president and general manager of autonomous systems at Northrop Grumman. The 13-hour journey the Global Hawk made that day from Guam was only half of the Triton’s endurance capability, he noted.
The Royal Australian Air Force is already sold on the new aircraft. It plans to acquire seven of them by 2025, Air Commodore Craig Heap, commander of the RAAF’s surveillance and response group, told reporters on the tarmac after greeting the Global Hawk, which he called the greatest unmanned aerial vehicle of its type.
“We look forward to all those great things that have been generated from this Global Hawk aircraft that we will take onboard with the Triton,” he said. “We are really looking forward to getting this kind of capability in the future.”
The Triton, which began operations with the U.S. Navy in 2018, is a broad area maritime surveillance aircraft that carries the AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor radar. It can cover more than 2.7 million miles in a 24-hour period with a range of 8,200 nautical miles, according to Northrop Grumman fact sheets.
Heap said Australia is on a path to modernize its air force with state-of-the-art aircraft such as the Triton, which will work alongside its P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane as a manned-unmanned team. Australia is “a massive country, with a massive maritime search-and-rescue area, with tremendous ranges that we have to go to do anything,” he said.
The RAAF will take delivery of its first Triton in 2023 with the planned buy of seven expected to be completed by 2025, he said. As for training, Australia would like to do what it did with the P-8, embed its personnel in U.S. Navy units so they can get up to speed quickly on how to operate the aircraft, Heap said.
The Australian Defence Force has some experience flying UAVs, but not recently. It leased Israeli-built Herons to assist its army fighting in Afghanistan last decade, but doesn’t have large unmanned aircraft of its own.
The government has committed to a 10-year, $200 billion modernization program for its military and the Triton is only one of several new systems it is acquiring. It has a program to procure one of two General Atomics-built medium-altitude, long-endurance MQ-9 Reaper models. During the show, Boeing and the RAAF announced a plan to develop and manufacture a semiautonomous loyal wingman jet fighter in Australia.
As for other Triton markets, Chappel noted that Japan and South Korea are acquiring Global Hawks and they might be interested in the Triton. Singapore is another potential customer, as are European allies. “Basically, anywhere there is a big ocean,” he said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Global Hawk made its first ever landing at an active airshow Feb. 28 at Avalon — the Australian International Airshow. The aircraft had previously appeared at Avalon as a static display.