Sea Logistics

Triton Deployed: The Navy’s MQ-4C’s Western Pacific Overwatch Continues Into

The Northrop Grumman-built Triton unmanned aircraft system completed its first flight from the company’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. The one-an-a-half-hour flight successfully demonstrated control systems that allow Triton to operate autonomously. Triton is specially designed to fly surveillance missions up to 24 hours at altitudes of more than 10 miles, allowing coverage out to 2,000 nautical miles. The system’s advanced suite of sensors can detect and automatically classify different types of ships. U.S. NAVY / Northrop Grumman / Bob Brown

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle has been deployed for more than a year to the Western Pacific and by all accounts is impressing the fleet with its capabilities and is in high demand by regional commanders.

Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19), the first of two planned Triton fleet squadrons, deployed two MQ-4Cs to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in January 2020 on the aircraft’s early operational capability (EOC) deployment. The two Tritons are being used for fleet operations and to provide lessons learned to pave the way for future operations off full “orbits,” the Navy’s term for a fully equipped site of four Tritons able to support a 24/7 on-station presence.

“Our operations from Guam are fully integrated into the 7th Fleet mission, from interactions with joint partners, carrier strike groups, and other MPRF [maritime patrol reconnaissance force assets, such as P-8A aircraft] and exercises,” said Cmdr. Michael V. Minervini, commanding officer of VUP-19, responding to questions from Seapower. “Typical missions range from 20 to 24 hours. VUP-19 is administratively controlled by commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11 and operationally controlled by commander, Task Force 72.”

Minervini, a naval flight officer with flight time in P-3 and P-8 aircraft who assumed command in April 2020, said the EOC deployment “was established to smooth the supply chain and operate forward to push the airframe and discover maintenance challenges. EOC has been successful at identifying areas for improvement in the supply system and logistics process as well as determining scheduled maintenance inspection schedules and spare parts. These lessons learned will allow for a seamless transition and immediate impact on IFC-4 [Integrated Functional Capability 4] operations forward.”

The two MQ-4Cs deployed by VUP-19 are equipped with the baseline capability, IFC-3, which includes a multi-sensor mission payload — maritime radar, electro-optical/infrared, electronic support measures, automatic identification system and basic communications relay — said Capt. Dan Mackin, the Navy’s Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager, in response to questions from Seapower.

“The next phase, known as IFC-4, will bring a multi-INT capability as part of the navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting transition plan,” he said.

“Triton sensors are performing to expectations and are providing 7th Fleet, [Pacific Fleet] and [Indo-Pacific Command] commanders with an additive early operational capability and persistent ISR in a vital area of U.S interest. These assets are in high demand.”

Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, the director of Air Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, told an audience on March 30 of the “good news that we’re getting. We are really excited with what we’ve learned there [operations from Guam], the growth that’s gone on in that program and the early operational capabilities that we’ve seen. So, first and foremost, we’re excited by what we’re seeing out of Triton.”

Members of the Indian Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, and Patrol Squadron (VP) 5 take a tour of the MQ-4C Triton, operated by Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 during Exercise Sea Dragon. Sea Dragon is an annual…

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