RAAF readies for Triton’s first flight in 2023

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has made another step in its progress to field Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime-surveillance uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) with a newly reformed squadron that will operate the new assets, and the impending maiden flight of the first RAAF MQ-4C undergoing systems integration in the company’s Palmdale facility.

Australian Prime Minister Richard Marles took the opportunity at the Australian International Aerospace & Defence Exposition and Airshow (Avalon 2023) to announce that the RAAF’s 9 Squadron is being reformed after a gap of 34 years.

“There’s a lot of lineage to this Squadron – 9 Squadron was originally formed in 1939,” said Marles. “It did maritime surveillance during the Second World War…and 9 Squadron will be reformed to operate this capability the Triton uncrewed aircraft.”

Marles noted that the reactivated squadron will be based at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia, although the three air vehicles that were ordered will be deployed from RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. The first is expected to perform its maiden test flight around mid-2023 and delivered to the RAAF in mid-2024. The second and third air vehicles are currently in various stages of construction.

According to Northrop Grumman, the MQ-4C Triton builds on the capabilities of the RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV but has been optimised for long-range maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. The company claims a mission radius of 2,000 nautical miles and an endurance of at least 24 hours.

Australia earlier outlined a requirement for seven MQ-4Cs under Project Air 7000 Phase 1B in its 2016 Defence White Paper, although the Turnbull government announced in June 2018 that the number would be revised to six. However

Australian Defence Force (ADF) officials had noted during the unveiling of the first air vehicle in September 2022 in Palmdale that the requirement of up to seven MQ-4Cs would be likely decided following the release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR). On 14 February, the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) announced that the DSR report had been presented to the Australian government although the report has yet been made public.

Marles did not disclose at Avalon 2023 if Australia would acquire additional MQ-4Cs beyond the three that are on order.

by Jr Ng