May 16, 2013
Credit: Northrop Grumman
With first flight of the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton imminent, Australia has announced it will formally request cost, capability and availability information on the high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.
The potential boost comes as Northrop struggles to keep its RQ-4B Global Hawk program alive, with the U.S. Air Force cutting production and Germany announcing it will not procure Euro Hawk variants.
Ahead of first flight, the Triton has performed high-speed taxi tests at Northrop’s Palmdale, Calif., facility after the resolution of issues that delayed flight testing and pushed back the start of production by a year.
A mass-balance issue on the V-tail ruddervators that affected control authority has been resolved, says Tom Vice, president of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.
A second concern involved software for the aircraft’s vehicle management system, which is different from that in the Global Hawk. Issues discovered during laboratory testing have been addressed, he says.
“The aircraft has been through high-speed taxi tests and first flight will be in the near future,” Vice says.
The U.S. Navy plans to buy 68 MQ-4Cs to operate as adjuncts to its 117 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, providing long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
Australia intends to buy P-8s to replace its Lockheed P-3C Orions, and says the letter of request for detailed information will allow it to consider the MQ-4C for its AIR 7000 Phase 1B program to acquire a high-altitude, long-endurance UAV for maritime patrol and other surveillance missions.
The letter of request “does not commit Australia to the acquisition of the MQ-4C,” the defense ministry says in a statement, adding it “will continue to consider options for a mixed manned and unmanned aircraft fleet to inform government consideration later in the decade.”