Got the feeling, you’re being watched? Well, you are … President Trump has upped the ante in the China Sea, once again.
The US Navy is sending two high-altitude MQ-4C Triton drones to Guam on their first overseas deployment, placing the sophisticated surveillance platform deep within the Indo-Pacific at a time of rising tensions with China and stepped-up Navy patrols through the Taiwan Strait, Breaking Defense reported.
A group of sailors from the Navy’s Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19, (VUP 19) the first unit to fly the Triton, left their base in Jacksonville Fla. yesterday for Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to support the 7th Fleet, according to the exclusive report.
Photos of the sailors leaving Florida were posted on the unit’s Facebook page.
A defense official confirmed the two drones are heading to Guam for an Early Operational Capability deployment to assess how they will operate alongside US and coalition aircraft. In the coming years, the Navy’s fleet of Tritons are expected to operate at five bases across the globe, the report said.
The Northrop Grumman-made Triton, part of the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program, will give the US a powerful new tool capable of staying aloft for over 24 hours at altitudes exceeding 10 miles, while it scans the ocean and landmasses with its 360-degree radar. It also has a multi-spectral targeting system that can transmit high-resolution images to other aircraft and ground stations.
Getting unmanned systems out in front of manned aircraft and ships in the Pacific has emerged as one of the Navy’s highest priorities, as the so-called “Great Wall of SAMS” China has installed on islands in the South China Sea have forced the US and its allies to reconsider how and where to deploy in the region.
The problem has led the new Marine Corps Commandant to launch a soup-to-nuts review of how the Corps deploys in the facie of deadly — and precise — standoff threats, and is certain to be a major point of order in the Navy’s new force structure assessment expected to be released later this year.
In the meantime, the Navy asked for US$3.7 billion to fund a variety of unmanned programs in its 2020 budget request, including US$447 million for two large unmanned surface vehicles to conduct everything from long-range surveillance to offensive operations, the report said.
In the air, Triton has already demonstrated the ability to feed full-motion video to P-8 surveillance planes and ground stations, giving P-8s vastly more visibility and allowing the sub hunters to concentrate on their primary mission while the Triton uses its high-altitude ISR to scan ahead.
The deployment arrives at the same time that the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray refueling drone has carried out its first successful test flight at a Boeing facility in the United States.
The two-hour flight, remotely controlled by Boeing pilots, featured an autonomous taxi and takeoff, while the plane flew a predetermined route. The Navy envisions the Stingray as its carrier-based refueler of the future, a major undertaking designed to take manned aircraft out of the loop on those dangerous missions.
The two Guam-based drones won’t be the only long-endurance platforms working in the region. In 2018, the Australian government signed a deal with Northrop Grumman for six MQ-4C Tritons, slated for delivery between 2023 and 2025.