This marks the first step in the path to acquiring possibly up to seven UAVs, which Australia had earlier expressed and again reiterated in its recently released Defense White Paper.
The letter does not signify a purchase and Australia is not obligated to purchase the MQ-4C. It can still select some other option, but the MQ-4C is highly favored by Australia's armed forces.
The MQ-4C Triton is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV developed from the RQ-4 Global Hawk primarily for maritime surveillance. Its specifications are:
- Length: 47.6 ft in (14.5 m)
- Wingspan: 130.9 ft in (39.9 m)
- Height: 15.3 ft in (4.7 m)
- Maximum weight: 32250 lb (14628 kg)
- Maximum speed: 357 mph (575 km/h)
- Maximum range: 9950 nautical miles (18427 km)
- Endurance: 30 hours
- Service ceiling: 60000 ft (18288 m)
To perform its tasks, the MQ-4C Triton is equipped with an array of active and passive sensors, including:
- 360-degree Field Of Regard (FOR) sensors
- Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) Maritime Radar
- Electro-Optical / Infrared (EO/IR) sensor
- Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver
- Electronic Support Measures (ESM)
- Communications relay capability
- beyond line of sight and line of sight communications
The UAVs are primarily intended to help secure Australia's extended coastline. The UAVs are part of Phase 1B of Project AIR 7000 to be followed by the acquisition of up to eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
This is similar to the US Navy. Both the MQ-4C and P-8A are intended to complement one another as part of the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program.
The MQ-4C Triton is not yet in service, even with the US, but only expected to do so in 2015. The US Navy intends to buy 68 MQ-4C Triton's and 117 P-8A Poseidon's.