The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drones to Germany.
Triton is a maritime development of the Global Hawk. It is expected to become operational in the U.S. Navy in 2019, but it will be another few years before it reaches full operational capability. The first German Tritons are not expected to be delivered before 2025.
Germany has expressed interest in buying four Tritons, and the State Department estimates a price of up to $2.5 billion including support equipment and a Mission Control Station. The actual price will depend on the negotiations between Germany and Northrop Grumman who produces the UAV, and it will probably be lower than the State Department’s estimate.
The Triton UAV is one leg in the new American concept for Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The other is the P-8 Poseidon jet which is built on a modified Boeing 737 platform. In rough terms the drone will be used for surveillance of the sea surface, while the P-8 Poseidon will focus on anti-submarine warfare.
MQ-4C Triton has an endurance of more than 24 hours at 55.000 ft (17.000m) with speeds up to 330 knots (611 km/h). It has a wingspan of almost 40 meters which is more than a Boeing 737 jet. The total weight is over 14 tons.
It has a powerful sensor package including surface radar, AIS, real-time video transmission, and electronic support measures (ESM). It can also be integrated into military link networks to provide an alternative to satellite based solutions. In the case of the German version, there will be some modifications to the sensor package with a signals intelligence system from Airbus.
Compared to the Global Hawk, Triton has been optimized for maritime tasks. It has a more robust construction which makes it possible to descend quickly for closer investigation of targets. It is also equipped to withstand the sometimes rough weather conditions over sea, and it has better de-icing, lightning, and bird strike protection.
With the MQ-4C Triton, Germany will get a capable maritime UAV. An important factor for Germany in choosing exactly this UAV has probably been its traffic alert and collision avoidance system. Triton has the safety measures required for operating inside European airspace.
In 2013 Germany had to cancel its previous EuroHawk drone project because it would be terribly expensive to modify the drone to meet European safety regulations. By choosing Triton, Germany will get a UAV which is cleared to fly inside national airspace of NATO members.