Australia will purchase a fourth long-range Triton drone for maritime surveillance, despite the US Navy recently halting production of the expensive unmanned platform which critics warn is vulnerable to enemy attack.
The contentious American acquisition is part of a $1.5 billion boost to the RAAF being unveiled on Tuesday that includes upgrades to the existing P-8A Poseidon fleet, allowing the patrol aircraft to eventually fire anti-ship missiles up to 1,000km.
Under the Poseidon upgrade program, the Department of Defence expects the first of its 14 Boeing-made aircraft to receive enhancements to anti-submarine warfare, maritime strike and intelligence collection capabilities from 2026.
The entire fleet is expected to be completed by 2030.
Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy says the P-8A upgrades and purchase of an additional MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) will be “critical to our defence and particularly surveilling the northern approaches to Australia”.
“The purchase of an additional Triton will enhance operations from Australia’s northern bases, a priority under the Defence Strategic Review,” Mr Conroy said.
“The upgrades to the fleet of Poseidon aircraft strengthens our ability to secure and protect Australia’s maritime interests.”
Originating from the Global Hawk program, the MQ-4C Triton is manufactured by Northrop Grumman, boasting the ability to fly surveillance missions for more than 24 hours at altitudes exceeding 50,000 feet.
A P-8 Poseidon plane flies through the sky
The Air Force’s P-8 Poseidon will gain the ability to fire missiles out to 1,000 kilometres.
Under the previous Coalition government, an initial order was made for three of the high altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft with plans to eventually buy up to seven, but none have yet been delivered to Australia.
According to the Biden administration’s latest Department of Defense budget, the Triton program will be terminated with production ceasing in 2024.
The halted production will leave the US Navy with a total of 22 aircraft, well short of its earlier target of 70.
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