Navy’s Triton Moves Forward Toward 2017 Deployment

140918-N-UZ648-008 NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (Sept. 18, 2014) The MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system completes its inaugural cross-country ferry flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Triton took off from the Northrop Grumman Palmdale, Calif. facility Sept. 17. (U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt/Released)The U.S. Navy’s newest and largest drone took another step last week towards its first operational deployment in 2017 after it completed a cross country flight to Patuxent River, Maryland, where engineers will complete more tests on the MQ-4C Triton.

Navy pilots flew the Triton at altitudes of 50,000 feet from Palmdale, California, along the U.S. southern border with Mexico and up the Atlantic Coast. The 3,290 nautical mile flight took 11 hours for the Triton to complete, Navy officials said.

Officials said the Triton will fly up to 2,000 hours before it’s deployed operationally at sea. The Navy has grand plans for the Triton once it enters operational service.

“We brought Triton home to the center of research, development, test and evaluation for naval aviation,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO (U&W)) at NAVAIR. “The testing performed here over the next few years is critical to delivering a capability that will provide our warfighter an unparalleled awareness of the maritime environment in locations across the globe.”

The aircraft, which boasts a 130-foot wingspan and can reach altitudes of 60,000 feet, is engineered as a long-endurance surveillance platform, meaning it can stay in the air as long at 30 hours on a single mission.

Navy admirals plan to use the Triton to offer better situational awareness across the large swaths of ocean the Navy’s fleets cover. Triton will feature advanced radars that will help carrier strike groups identify enemy threats.

The Triton’s next-generation radar, called the Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS), is a 360-degree radar capability optimized to provide the identification of surface ships over vast areas covering thousands of miles..

Its sensors also include a high-definition, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red camera and a communications relay device so that it can function as a line-of-sight “node” connecting Naval forces dispersed over a large area.

Below is a video of the Triton landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River followed by an interview with Winter.

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Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • SMSgt Mac

    It is not a ‘drone’. Calling it one demonstrated manifest ignorance of the technology: like a hipster calling the latest Playstation or XBox an Atari. Drones are very different from UAVs, ESPECIALLY high-end UAVs. Ask someone on the program about how the Triton deals with ‘Contingencies’. A drone can’t deal with them at all.

    • Nick

      Right, but you have to admit it’s a pretty sweet drone.

      • Seymour B.

        Hella sweet.

      • jacobC

        +1 to that comment. That’s funny.

      • notnick

        Which part of the drone is sweet? The ultra-expensive development costs? The highly inflated specs? The constellation of hidden flaws and problems? The evil intent behind its creation? Or the illegal use in the future at the hands of the mafia government?

      • guest

        Hahahahaha instagator :-)

    • blight_asdf

      ICAO is probably on the money for calling them Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or the older terminology of RPV.

      • tiger

        I miss NBC warfare.” Weapons of mass destruction” is a dumb term. “boots on ground” is second worst…..

        Call them Cylons. One day we will all be on that last battlestar fleeing them.

    • Hunter76

      Total BS. No one appointed you owner of the English language. “Drone” has been in use for remotely piloted aircraft since at least 1946.There are a ton of alternate designations for unmanned vehicles. If you want to establish a specific vocabulary, use it.

  • NathanS

    The advent of wide area persistent stare is the real revolution. Search for ARGUS-IS on YouTube, and see what these things can do even 18 months ago.

    And if that wasn’t scary enough, this thing takes it one step further.

    • rtsy

      The capabilities you’re talking about, wide-area/persistent stare, are terrifying for anyone with civil liberties in mind.

      Anyone in the homeland will have reason to be scared of even lighting up a joint outside when these start flying over the states on a regular basis.

      • tiger

        Civil liberty? Obama wacked a Citzen without even a trial. That red line has been crossed over.

        • Bernard

          If you’re not backing a repeal of the Patriot Act then you’re not actually serious about “civil liberties.”

          • tiger

            in 13 years has it done much to you? The NSA mess & IRS infractions & AP spying have little to do with the Patriot act.

          • Bernard

            The Patriot Act made them legal.

  • DocPalo

    um….it’s a Global Hawk…Why all the excitement for a Navy branded Air Force platform?

    • Lurker

      It’s a Global Hawk airframe with completely different sensors and electronics for completely different missions such as naval surveillance. The new radars it carries and the ways it will be deployed will be a significant upgrade for the Navy. (For example, it will be the first Navy UAV designed for manned-unmanned pairing with the Poseidon)

      No need to be so dismissive.

      • jeff

        Yes, it is land based, but operating from 5 main operating bases it can provide 24/7 coverage and 80% ETOS.

        Secondly, yes, the basic air frame is based on the Global Hawk form. But, it has several significant improvements specific to maritime primary usage. The wings have thermal-mechanical deicing systems, hail and bird strike resistance. Increase wing strength for gust loads and fuselage strength for additional sensor payloads as well as lightning protection. The original Global Hawk did not need these because it’s original intent was operating above cloud cover at high altitude whereas the Triton will be required to also operate in maritime environments with more extreme conditions. Not to mention a couple dozen other basic improvements to capacity/capability.

    • SMSgt Mac

      Lurker and Jeff hit most of the high points. The only thing I would add to the list is the Due Regard system for deconflicting with other air traffic. This is THE key capability needed to autonomously operate in uncontrolled airspace

    • guest

      Really!! hahahahaha Not being very knowlegable about these things, I would imagine that a different, mission specific software package is being developed for the Navy. Otherwise, not much else should be that different from the Global Hawk. Which I heard was not being received very enthusiastically by the AF due to its costs per hour to use and the return versus other platforms, i.e. U2. Could be wrong, just what I read :-)

  • LPF

    All this time I thought this was going to be a drone that launched off the carriers an would provide greater over the horizon capability for a carrier battle group. As DocPalo says this is just a global hawk, it requires a land based runway to launch so why a specific one for the navy ?

    • Dwayne

      That’s kind of like saying: “A P-3 or a P-8 can’t launch from an aircraft carrier so why are they Naval aircraft?

      • LPF

        The P3 and P8 are sub hunters , what I’m saying is way not use a global hawk, unless this drone will be carrying sonar buoys to do sub hunting, then the navy might of well just taken the global hawk, are you telling me that the difference between the two was so much it required a substantially different avionics ?

    • tiger

      That is another project; the x48B. We also have the UAV chopper projects:Fire scout & Kmax. As to why the Navy needs a specific one? 3/4 of the world is ocean. P8’s can not search it all…..

  • Tim

    A 130ft wingspan ? How does it help a carrier group a thousand miles from shore ?

    • Lurker

      Not everything in the Navy is for supporting carrier groups.

  • guest

    TRIPLE FOLDING WINGS….of course :-)