Navy awards $350M in contracts for Triton UAS program

Northrop is to produce three low-rate initial production systems for the high-altitude surveillance drones, ticketed for persistent surveillance missions in the Pacific.

The Navy is getting into unmanned systems in a big way, focusing on surface and underwater systems as well as aircraft. Last spring retired Marine Gen. Frank Kelley, the Navy’s first Deputy Assistant Secretary for Unmanned Systems, said new unmanned platforms “are going to fundamentally change the way the Department of the Navy operates in the future.”

The Navy has taken another step toward acquiring a fleet of high-altitude, long-range unmanned aerial systems that is seen as key to its future presence in the Pacific.

The Naval Air Systems Command has awarded Northrop Grumman Systems a $255.2 million contract modification for three low-rate initial production Lot 1 MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft, along with a main operation control station, a forward operation control station, training courseware and tooling, the Defense department announced.

The Triton, the Navy’s version of the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk, is expected to provide persistent, long-range maritime surveillance while working in concert with other aircraft, such as the manned P-8A Poseidon. It also will supply signals intelligence, search and rescue and communications relay. The 47.6-foot long Triton has a 130.9-foot wingspan and can fly for 30 hours at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, and has an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles, according to the Navy.

The UAS completed its operational assessment early this year and earlier this week, following a Milestone Decision Authority review, was cleared for low-rate initial production. The Navy has said it expects to get to initial operating capacity in 2018.