The U.S. Navy is preparing to house its first squadron of MQ-4C Triton drones in Guam by the end of 2017, service officials said.
In addition to being stationed in Guam, Tritons will also be based in the eastern and western U.S., a location in the Middle East and in Sicily, Italy, Navy leaders said.
The Triton UAS is an intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance drone with specially configured maritime sensors and radar systems. The 45 foot-long, 32,000-pound aircraft has a wingspan of 131 feet.
The Navy is flight testing the drone at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale, Calif. The MQ-4Cs airframe is based on the Global Hawk except that it has been tailored to function in a maritime environment, said Capt. Jim Hoke, Triton program manager.
For instance, the Triton is built with a thicker, more stiffened wing compared to the Global Hawk to enable the aircraft to rapidly change altitude in adverse or icy weather conditions, he added.
“You’ve got to test the airframe. You have to take it through a series of climbs and descents. You’ve got to test the performance of the engine and make sure that all the analysis being done ahead of time will actually prove out in flight tests,” Hoke said. “You have to check all the communication links to make sure the pilots on the ground in the box are operating the aircraft.”
Hoke said the Navy is also separately testing the Triton’s software and sensor systems by flying them in a surrogate Gulfstream 2 airplane.
“What we’re doing is maturing that radar and software so that when we integrate it on Triton it is a much more mature system than you would have had otherwise,” Hoke said.
The Triton’s electronics include an electro-optical/infrared sensor, a 360-degree active electronically scanned array radar and inverse synthetic aperture radar, among other things.
The sensor package being designed for the aircraft included what the Navy calls a multi-function array sensor, or MFAS, a sensor system specially configured to function in a maritime environment.
Designed to function as a maritime version of the Air Force’s Global Hawk surveillance plane, the Triton is designed for high-altitude, long-dwell ISR missions – the kind of technology suited for the geographically dispersed Pacific theater. The Air Force already has RQ-4 Global Hawks stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
“The Triton brings endurance, altitude, range and persistent stare ability. We can stay out for over 24 hours at altitudes greater than 50,000 feet. We can cover more than two million square miles out on the ocean in a single mission,” said Hoke.
The idea is to provide ship commanders with an ability to detect and see targets, threats and items of interest in real time from great distances using the sensors, cameras and data-links of the Triton system.