Multi-intelligence version of the MQ-4C drone flies for first time
A Northrop Grumann MQ-4C Triton drone equipped with a highly upgraded multi-intelligence package, called Integrated Functional Capability Four (IFC-4), has taken to the air for the first time. The turbofan-powered robotic aircraft in its new configuration is being developed by the US Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force for advanced long-endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
Since its first test flight in 2013, the subsonic Triton drone has grown in capabilities that have transformed it from an airframe for occasional surveillance duty to a semi-autonomous platform that a Northrop Grumman spokesperson has described as being on the verge of completely revolutionizing how the US Navy and the RAAF carry out maritime patrols and reconnaissance.
In its latest configuration, the MQ-4C Triton combines its High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) capabilities with multi-intelligence systems that bring to bear state-of-the-art radar and other sensors as well as very high-bandwidth multiple data feeds. This provides for much greater situational awareness on both the tactical and strategic levels.
If the current program is successful, the two baseline configuration Tritons that the US Navy is operating in the Pacific region will expand into both full Pacific and worldwide deployment as it reaches initial operating capability (IOC) in 2023.
Eventually, there will be a fleet of 68 Tritons that will fly five-at-a-time on patrols conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This will allow the US Navy to stand down its crewed EP-3 Aries patrol craft, which first joined Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One in 1969. Later upgrades will include artificial intelligence and machine learning.
"This hugely important milestone for our Triton Multi-INT program is the culmination of over five years of intense engineering, integration and test, and represents the efforts of the hundreds of team members who have worked so tirelessly to achieve this Herculean task," says Captain Dan Mackin, Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager. "The Multi-INT capability that the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have procured through Northrop Grumman, our Naval Warfare Centers and our GFE partners is like no other – 360 degree AESA maritime radar, full-motion EO/IR video streaming, high-altitude, long-endurance, full-spectrum signals intelligence and the pipes to send multiple data types to ships, aircraft and intelligence community ground stations allow our forces to hold adversaries at risk and protect the peace which is so vital to our national interest."
Source: Northrop Grumman