The Australian Department of Defence has approved the purchase of the second MQ-4C Triton remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to be operated by the Royal Australian Air Force.

The proposed acquisition is part of Australia’s plans to procure at least six Triton aircraft through a cooperative programme with the US Navy. The fleet is estimated to cost A$6.9bn ($5.1bn).

The first aircraft was approved in June and is expected to enter service in mid-2023. All six aircraft will be based at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Edinburgh in South Australia.

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft will be used for maritime patrol, real-time maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

The aircraft is equipped with a sensor suite and will operate alongside the P-8A Poseidon that will replace the RAAF’s AP-3C Orions. Triton is designed to offer enhanced endurance during operations.

Australia Defence Minister Christopher Pyne stated that the acquisition of the Triton aircraft will help safeguard the nation’s maritime borders.

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“The Tritons will also be able to undertake enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks to support whole-of-government operations.”

Pyne said: “The Triton, which will complement our manned P-8A Poseidon aircraft, will significantly enhance our anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike capability, as well as our ability to monitor and secure Australia’s maritime approaches.

“These capabilities help us protect our maritime area from threats such as people smuggling, and the exploitation of our natural resources from activities like illegal fishing.

“The Tritons will also be able to undertake enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks to support whole-of-government operations.”

According to Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds, the project will create opportunities for the Australian domestic industry during the sustainment phase in the form of system maintenance and network management.

Reynolds also noted that the project is expected to generate around 70 jobs in the region.

Triton has the ability to fly at altitudes of 55,000ft for a period of 24 hours.

The project also includes facilities upgrades and support. The Australian government will invest in new facilities at two RAAF bases in the country as part of the project.