Australia’s MQ-4C drones get L3Harris command systems boost

The Australian Navy’s MQ-4C Triton multi-intelligence drone fleet is set to receive a substantial upgrade, thanks to a new collaboration with L3Harris. Northrop Grumman Australia has secured a contract with L3Harris Corporation to manage and supervise the command and control systems for these advanced unmanned aircraft. 

Australia's MQ-4C drones get L3Harris command systems boost
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

This support contract, temporary in nature, will oversee the maintenance of Triton’s Broadband Command, Control, and Communications [C3] subsystem, an L3HCA product. Starting from this month, L3HCA will assign seven dedicated communication technicians and service representatives to team up with the Northrop Grumman unit. 

Following their contract agreement with Northrop Grumman’s Australian division, L3HCA demonstrates considerable optimism. They expect that the Air Force, the drone command authority, will benefit from state-of-the-art technological solutions enhancing Australia’s security. Andrew Rushbrook, Managing Director of L3Harris Communications Australia Pty Ltd, underscores that the upcoming broadband C3 solution for Australia’s MQ-4C Triton will promote a first-rate sovereign capability.

The Triton’s C3

Playing a pivotal role in the MQ-4C Triton is the C3 system from L3Harris Corporation, essentially serving as the drone’s ‘command center’. It equips the Triton with the necessary abilities to effectively carry out its reconnaissance and surveillance missions. 

The C3 system gives the Triton advanced communication capabilities, including the smooth transmission and reception of data in real-time, from mission changes to sensor data. A key feature of the C3 system is its broadband competency, which guarantees it can handle large volumes of data at extremely high speeds, an essential asset for Triton’s operations. 

Additionally, the capability to remotely operate Triton, modify its flight path, and even change its mission parameters mid-flight can all be credited to the C3 system. This enables smooth command and control operations. Additionally, its compatibility with other systems and platforms adds a layer of versatility. Finally, the C3 system provides robust and secure communication for Triton, courtesy of the advanced encryption and anti-jamming technologies it employs.

MQ-4C Triton

The MQ-4C Triton represents an enormous leap forward in high-altitude, long-endurance [HALE] unmanned aerial systems [UAS]. This advanced piece of tech is built by Northrop Grumman, specifically designed for the U.S. Navy, and is an upgraded version of the RQ-4 Global Hawk tailored for maritime surveillance roles. 

Allow me to share some impressive stats about the Triton. It has a royal wingspan measuring 130.9 feet; its solid body stretches 47.6 feet long, and it stands impressively at 15.4 feet tall. With a max takeoff weight of 32,250 pounds, it effortlessly soars up to 60,000 feet – particularly noteworthy since it’s much higher than standard commercial flights. 

Australia's MQ-4C drones get L3Harris command systems boost
Photo credit: Shephard Media

But the Triton isn’t all about size and altitude. Its capabilities extend to impressive high-tech features. It houses a multi-function active sensor [MFAS] radar, providing a 360-degree view over a radius of more than 2,000 nautical miles. Add to that the electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] sensor turret, Automatic Identification System [AIS], and Electronic Support Measures [ESM] system. It isn’t just an aviation marvel—it’s a technological powerhouse.

A wide range of missions

The Triton, decked out with state-of-the-art sensory infrastructure, is perfect for a myriad of tasks. Not only does it survey the ocean and gather data on marine life, but it can also play an active role in search and rescue missions and threat detection. In addition, Triton can provide operational and tactical users with real-time imagery and signals intelligence [SIGINT].  

Australia's MQ-4C drones get L3Harris command systems boost
Photo credit: Twitter

What’s more, the MQ-4C Triton is cleverly designed to complement the P-8 Poseidon, the Navy’s most recent maritime patrol aircraft. This strategic pairing allows the Triton to remain airborne for extended periods, offering extensive high-altitude sensory coverage while the P-8 handles lower-altitude tasks.

MQ-4C in Australia

Marking a significant production milestone, Northrop Grumman successfully flew Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft at its facility in Palmdale, California, back in November 2023. The path towards delivering Australia’s first Triton in 2024 remains steady, as each of the four Australian Tritons, currently under contract, adheres to their production timeline. 

In preparation for the phased delivery of the Triton systems in Australia, Northrop Grumman has been setting up an active support infrastructure. This includes developing ground stations at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia and enabling airlift services at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. 

To ensure unparalleled service at both locations, the company is forming an elite Australian workforce. This approach makes extensive use of insights and proficiency accumulated from supporting the US Navy’s Triton operations.

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