The U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS), now known as the Triton MQ-4C, is based on the Air Force's RQ-4B Global Hawk. The long endurance (2,000 nautical miles), high altitude drone is designed by Northrop Grumman to complement manned naval ISR aircraft such as the P-3C and P-8A. In addition to the Global Hawk’s sensors, the Triton includes the AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, allowing it to survey more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission. A BAMS-D (Demonstrator) based on the RQ-4A variant crashed on June 11, 2012 approximately 22 miles from Patuxent River, Maryland due to a combination of a motor failure in the right inboard ruddervator, and pilot error in responding to the casualty.
Other BAMS-D aircraft have flown operational missions in the Middle East. BAMS-D surpassed 10,000 flight hours April 1, 2013.
Triton was expected to be operational in 2015 with a total of 68 aircraft to be procured. However, in April 2013, the Navy announced that production has shifted from FY14 to FY15 due to additional testing requirements and technical issues related to the aircraft's double-tail rudder and software integration for maritime sensors.
The Navy is building a mission-control complex for all BAMs operations at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Florida.
Australia has expressed an interested in buying up to seven Tritons and associated equipment for $2.5 Billion.
Initial Triton Testing Complete
21 March 2014 - The Navy's MQ-4C Triton completed its initial flight test phase at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, Calif., facility March 13, bringing the unmanned air system one step closer to introduction to the fleet in 2017.
The flight testing, called Initial Envelope Expansion, is designed to measure the air vehicle’s performance under a variety of speeds and altitudes. The combined Navy and Northrop Grumman team completed this phase of testing in 13 of the 14 scheduled flights for the test.
"The system performed exceptionally well during flight test, which is a reflection of years of hard work and dedication by our team," said Capt. Jim Hoke, Triton UAS program manager. "Our job is far from over with fleet delivery still a few years away, but each of our team members should reflect on how far we have come and be proud of this accomplishment."
During IEE, the MQ-4C flew a total of 81 hours, reached a maximum altitude of 59,950 feet and executed 568 data points.
The Triton’s software and sensor systems are being tested separately on a surrogate aircraft. This includes a multi-function array sensor (MFAS), configured to function in a maritime environment.
After testing completion at Palmdale, the team has a planned maintenance period to prepare for the system's transition to Naval Air Station Patuxent River. The MQ-4C will take its first cross-country flight in the June/July timeframe, followed by the second test aircraft shortly after. Sensors will be integrated onto both aircraft before resuming flight test this summer.
As an adjunct to the manned P-8A aircraft, the Triton will cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission. Its ability to perform 24/7 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with a range of 2,000 nautical miles will allow P-8A, P-3C and EP-3E aircraft to focus on their core missions, adding the capability the Navy's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force.
Navy to Stand Up Triton Launch and Recovery Element
6 March 2014 - The Navy will establish launch and recovery element (LRE) Detachment 5 at Point Mugu, California on June 1, 2015. The element is a component of unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19), which stood up 1 October 2013 to support MQ-4C Triton operations in the Middle East.
New Triton Flight Test Video Released
31 December 2013 - Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy have completed nine initial flight tests of the Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS), marking the half-way point in a process called envelope expansion. During envelope expansion, the test team validates the aircraft's ability to operate at a range of altitudes, speeds and weights. The flights are taking place at the company's manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. The Triton test team accomplished endurance flights up to 9.4-hours at altitudes up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft also performed doublets, a maneuver that tests the aircraft's ability to recover from small perturbations in its flight path caused by turbulence.
Lab Effort to Cut Costs for Navy's Triton UAS
29 May 2013 — An engineer at Naval Air Station Patuxent River is leading an initiative that will save the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System program several hundred thousand dollars.
Paul Weinstein, an electronics engineer supporting the Common Standards and Interoperability (CSI) program office, launched an image quality lab in 2012 that will help determine how to effectively employ Triton’s sensors and radars and potentially other manned and unmanned systems.
In preparation for the first Triton image evaluation, Weinstein, a former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)employee, worked with the agency to provide the necessary training, software and image scientists for the first official evaluation of the P-8A aircraft’s Electro-Optical (EO) sensor. Since the P-8A and MQ-4C are part of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems, Weinstein’s team made a decision to evaluate the P-8 first and include test engineers from both programs.
“Paul did an outstanding job getting this image quality assessment capability set up and running,” said Pat Ellis, MQ-4C Triton’s Mission Systems lead. “This will save the Triton program several hundred thousand dollars, since we will not have to submit packages for image ratings to NGA and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) for our imaging systems.”
Without this capability at Pax River, the Navy would have to rely on NGA to perform sensor testing, at a cost of more than $150,000 per evaluation. It would also take more than a month to return the analysis to the team. By having the lab at Pax, each test is virtually free and it takes less than one week to turn around the data to the test team, Weinstein said.
“This level of testing will enable program offices to make smart budget decisions with respect to changes to the current network and current integration measures as well as future integration efforts,” Ellis said.
Typically, image analysts perform this function, but the evaluation proved that test engineers can analyze images and make effective mission-planning decisions.
“We are following the fly-fix-fly philosophy as we figure out solutions that will allow lower bandwidth platforms to send better quality video,” Weinstein added. “We need to understand if a platform can meet its mission and avoid it just flying out and burning fuel.”
The first imagery evaluation for MQ-4C Triton will be conducted after the team has data available from Triton’s first flight, which was conducted May 22 at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, Calif. The image-quality lab team will evaluate the MQ-4C’s EO/Infrared (IR) and Synthetic Aperture Radar sensors.
“The ability to collect and share real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) quickly and accurately is crucial to ensuring battle commanders have the enhanced situational awareness required for a successful mission,” said Capt. Jim Hoke, MQ-4C Triton program manager.
NAVAIR News Release
Northrop's Triton Takes to the Skies
22 May 2013 - Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system completed its first flight May 22 from the company's facility in Palmdale, California.
The 80 minute flight to 20,000 feet 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.
“This flight represents a significant milestone for the Triton team,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who leads the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. “The work they have done and will continue to do is critical to the future of naval aviation, particularly to our maritime patrol and reconnaissance community.”
Navy to Establish Dedicated Triton Squadron
7 February 2013 - The U.S. Navy announced that it will stand up Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19) at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida on 1 October 2013. The squadron will operate the Navy's forthcoming MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). A remote operating detachment will also be established at Point Mugu, California. VUP-19 will fall under the adminsistrative control of Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Eleven and initially operate the Triton on reconaissance missions in 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet, 7th Fleet, and U.S. Fleet Forces Atlantic Operations. In 2014, the Navy will activate another Triton Squadron, VUP-11, at Whidbey Island, California to take over operations in the Pacific.
VUP-19 will be the second Navy UAV squadron to stand up recently, with Unmanned Helicopter Reconnaissance Squadron One (HUQ-1) established on 1 October 2012 to fly the Fire Scout rotary wing UAV.
31 January 2013 - Northrop Grumman employees mate the fuselage with the wings of a company-owned Triton test bed unmanned aircraft in Palmdale, Calif. Based on the U.S. Navy's MQ-4C Triton, the system provides a detailed picture of surface vessels to identify threats across vast areas of ocean and coastal areas.
Navy to Station Triton Drones in Guam
17 August 2012 - The Navy intends to station the MQ-4C Triton at Anderson Airbase in Guam around 2017, according to a spokesman for the Navy. The BAMs will join two Global Hawks which have flown surveillance missions in the region for the Air Force’s 36th Wing since 2010. The MQ-4C will provide high altitude, persistent maritime surveillance over a mission radius of 2,000 nautical miles, greatly enhancing the fleet’s ISR options over the vast Pacific. This announcement follows the spring decision to shift 8,000 Marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam by 2014.
Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam
U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Nichelle Anderson/released)
Sep. 2012 Northrop Grumman Promotional Video.
Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unveiling Ceremony Highlights
Northrop Grumman BAMS promotional video.