From Guam, it is 1,800 miles as the crow flies to the Taiwan Strait. That leaves a Navy MQ- 4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
with enough fuel to fly another 4,000 miles or more,
collecting information along the Chinese coast before
it has to swing back east across the South China Sea
and over the Philippines on its way back to Guam.
Or a Triton might set a more northerly course, making a six-hour hop to North Korea, where it could then
spend 12 hours collecting intelligence before it has to
The U.S. Navy plans to start operating Tritons from
Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in 2017, ADM
Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, told
a Senate subcommittee in March. That will put four
of the Navy’s newest, largest and most sophisticated
unmanned surveillance and intelligence gathering planes at the leading edge of the Navy’s pivot to
Although the western Pacific is
vast, it is far from empty. Oil
tankers, cargo ships, container vessels, fishing boats and warships
from more than 20 nations ply the
waters off Russia, Japan, North and
South Korea in the north, and
China, Taiwan, the Philippines,
Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia
to the south.
More than 60,000 vessels a year
traverse the Strait of Malacca. Four
times that many transit the Taiwan
Strait. Half of the world’s international trade crosses the South
China Sea, including much of the
energy that is consumed by Japan
and South Korea. Ships carry the
manufactured goods that sustain
China’s economic miracle to markets around the world.
The region is not just an economic beehive, it’s also
a hornets’ nest. Newly rich China is building up its
military and flexing its muscles. It has laid claim to
eight uninhabited Japanese islands; it is building new
islands with air strips on reefs claimed by the Philippines; and it deployed, but later withdrew, a deepwater oil drilling rig and supporting ships in Vietnam’s
exclusive economic zone.
China also is challenging U.S. presence in the region
by building robust anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)
capabilities. They include ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. bases in the region, anti-ship and anti-aircraft
missiles, quiet diesel submarines, anti-satellite weapons
and cyber weapons.
Into this environment — humming with dynamic
commerce, but twitching with military tension — the
Navy is sending its Tritons.
The decision reflects “our effort to deploy the most
capable and advanced platforms to the Asia-Pacific
At the Leading Edge
MQ-4C Triton UAVs will be the ISR
eyes in the sky of the Navy’s Pacific pivot
By WILLIAM MATTHEWS, Special Correspondent
Over ‘the Lion’s Den’
The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton is a modified version of Air Force
Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles that operated extensively
during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
; The Navy plans to start operating Tritons from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in 2017 to provide intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance in the western Pacific. Ultimately, Tritons will based
in five locations around the world.
; In the Pacific region, Tritons may face a more hostile operational environment, given the air defense capabilities of China
and, potentially, North Korea.
; Cyber attacks may pose another risk, although the Triton program manager said, “We have very extensive information assurance and cyber-security processes and protections within the