In a boost for the Northern Territory as part of a $8 Billion expenditure over the next 10 years, the Australian Government plans to invest $110 mil at RAAF Base Tindal as part of project AIR7000 Phase 2B – Maritime Patrol Aircraft Replacement Project.


Artist impression of RAAF MQ-4C Triton. (Courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

New facilities designed to support the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton Un-manned Aerial System (UAS) operations will be constructed including Aircraft Pavements and Shelters, communication (antenna farms) and support infrastructure (refuelling), and also secure administative annexes. After completion RAAF Base Tindal will be capable of fully supporting the primary operations of the Triton out of RAAF Base Edinburgh, S.A.


Artist impression of RAAF MQ-4C Triton. (Courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

With the Northern Territory an important forward defence location for Australia, Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Marise Payne announcing recently – “These facilities works will be tendered in a way that will ensure that Northern Territory businesses are best placed to succeed in delivering these facilities,” Minister Payne also said “The successful prime contractor will be required to implement a Local Industry Capability Plan (LICP) that will ensure small-to-medium businesses in the Northern Territory have the best opportunity to compete and win work.”


RAAF MQ-4C mock up at Avalon Air Show – 2015

Senator for the Northern Territory, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion – “This is another demonstration of our commitment to Australia’s long-term national security, and our commitment to supporting Northern Territory business.”


The full scale mock up of the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (ADF supplied photo)

The RAAF Triton is based on a US maritime variant of the RQ-4B Global Hawk and will be tasked with providing broad area real-time maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). ASO photographer Motty recently captured the USAF version on a visit to ADEX Korea, a surprisingly large unmanned aircraft with a wingspan just shy of 40m.


USAF- Global Hawk at Seoul ADEX2017


USAF- Global Hawk

These aircraft types are commonly referred to as an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) – that is, a remotely piloted aircraft. Although having many autonomous functions, it requires ground-based team – command (Pilot) and control mission planners and one or more Sensor Operators to operate and collate the information  during each specific mission.


RAAF crew flying the RAAF IAI Heron from inside the piloting


Heron operations centre

On extended flights , while the aircraft crews are able to be rotated to minimise fatigue, the Triton continues it’s mission. The launch and recovery from runways is performed by the crew but long legs on pre-programmed missions are often only monitored unless required to be altered or interrupted by human input. An example would be the warranted investigation of a unknown or suspicious target, or in the case of SAR misssions, the discovery of a vessel or surface debris.

The MQ-4C Triton will fly in conjunction with Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidons, performing the high altitude (17,000m+) long endurance (HALE) mission, complimenting the ADF’s existing suite of sophisticated intelligence collecting systems. In addtion to ISR, Signals Intelligence, Communications Relay, and with a flight endurance up to 30 hours and approximately a 15,000km range, the Triton can be tasked with extended Search and Rescue (SAR) missions anywhere within Australia’s Economic Exclusion Zone, and beyond if necessary.


Triton capabilities (Northrop-Grumman)

The Triton will supplement the capabilities of the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon from 11 SQN, also based out of RAAF Edinburgh, and replace many of the functions performed by the retiring Lockheed AP-3C Orion. It will have the capacity to communicate and exchange data with the RAAF’s other airborne eyes and ears, such as the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail from 2 Sqn based at RAAF Base Williamtown, and is expected to be compatible with future Airforce purchases such as the Gulfstream G550 ISR&EW special mission platform or even the project AIR7003 contenders,  IAI Heron TP or General Atomics’ MQ-9B.

The six MQ-4C Tritons are scheduled for delivery mid-2023, with initial operating capability (IOC) 12 months later, and full operational capability (FOC) is expected by mid-2025.

RAAF Poseidon

RAAF P-8A Poseidon A47-001 – Darwin


RAAF Boeing E-7A Wedgetail A30-001 – Tindal

Into Darwin - AP-3C

AP-3C landing at RAAF Base Darwin

In 2017 the RAAF’s  5 Flight retired the much smaller leased IAI Heron which paved the way for unmanned surveillance aircraft operations in the ADF – see ASO Editor Leigh Atkinson’s article on the Heron remotely-piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in RAAF use here


RAAF Heron – RAAF Base Amberley, QLD.


5 Flt IAI Heron into RAAF Base Tindal – one of the last flights – 2017

With UAS to become a commonplace intelligence and/or offensive assets in the modern battlespace, many air forces are introducing them into their inventory. A recent announcement by the British Govenment (RAF) to deliver their first Protector RG Mk.1 Piloted Air System (RPAS) in a Trans-Alantic flight during July, the Chief of Staff Capability, Air Vice-Marshal Rochelle announced, “The first trans-Atlantic flight of the Protector reinforces the Royal Air Force as being at the forefront of cutting edge technology. Offering over 40 hours’ endurance Protector will provide the RAF with unrivalled intelligence gathering possibilities.  The decision to expand our Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) fleet with this world leading aircraft will offer a game changing leap in capability and marks the next step in our modernisation in our 100th year.” This will be the first RPAS of it’s class to in operational use over the UK. The Royal Air Force will have the Protector on display at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2018.

Protector - RAF RPAS drone - CREDIT MOD

Protector RG Mk.1 Piloted Air System (RPAS) (UK MOD artist impression)

As with all new acquisitions they will be phased in but we may get to see the real deal in a few Avalon’s time.

Cheers.. Sid Mitchell