189 passengers; the Triton carries none. Fully loaded,
a Triton weighs 32,250 pounds; a 737 weighs more
than five times that much at 171,000 pounds.
The Boeing jet can fly about 3,000 nautical miles.
The Triton can fly more than 8,200. The 737 typically
flies at about 35,000 feet and at about 520 miles per
hour. The Triton flies at 55,000 and higher, and has a
maximum speed of 357 miles per hour. It can remain
aloft “in excess of 24 hours,” Mackey said.
The Triton carries a payload of high-tech sensors that
the Navy says it will use to “detect, identify, track and
assess maritime and littoral targets of interest, and to col-
lect imagery and signals intelligence information.”
The sensors include:
; A 360-degree multimode radar for detecting, identifying and tracking targets on the ocean’s surface. The
radar can see in all directions around the aircraft, and
at the same time zoom to inspect targets of interest,
; The UAV also can swoop down from 55,000 feet to take
a closer look with its chin-mounted electro-optical/
infrared (EO/IR) sensors. The EO/IR sensors are cameras
that work in the visible light and heat portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. They can take full-motion video
and high-resolution still pictures of surface targets. Tritons
are built with reinforced airframes and wings and with deicing and lightning protection systems so they can dive
down through adverse weather to inspect targets.
; An “electronic support measures system” on the
Triton detects, identifies and maps the location of
; An automatic identification system identifies and
tracks ships using the signals emitted by the ships’
; Data-link systems transmit sensor data directly or
via satellite to ground control stations and friendly
ships and aircraft.
; A “due regard” radar designed to avoid collisions with
aircraft that are not emitting identification signals, will be
added to Tritons in 2019, Mackey said. The radars were
supposed to be part of the original equipment package,
but encountered technical problems and cost increases.
Until the due regard radar is ready, Tritons will use other
collision avoidance systems.
; A “multi-int” sensor system for gathering electronic
and signals intelligence also is coming in 2019,
Mackey said. It is designed to intercept voice and text
communications as well as radar signals, electronic
emissions from weapons and other electronic signals.
Flying at 55,000 feet, Tritons are supposed to be
able to spot and track every vessel — commercial cargo
ships, fishing boats and warships — within a 2,000-
mile circle. Over the course of a 24-hour mission, a
Triton could surveil 2 million square miles of ocean.
Mackey pronounced the capability that Tritons will
bring to Navy ISR as “revolutionary.”
Ultimately, the Navy plans to have Tritons based in
five locations around the world to “provide around-
the-clock surveillance of the maritime environment,”
“Unmanned aircraft [will] extend the force’s reach
and persistence while manned aircraft preserve the
force’s flexibility and on-scene decision-making,” the
Navy spokesman said. “The Navy will be able to task
its unmanned aircraft with the day-in and day-out surveillance missions while keeping manned platforms
available for more complex, shorter-duration missions
like delivering ASW [anti-submarine warfare] weapons
or supporting maritime intercept operations,” he said.
Each Triton can be flown by a four-member crew — a
pilot, a mission commander and two sensor operators —
who operate in a ground station. But much of the time,
the UAVs are expected to fly themselves. They are
remarkably autonomous, able to follow instructions that
have been programmed into their mission computers.
Mackey said a Triton ground crew only would have
to “start the engine and push a button,” and the UAV
could then taxi to the runway, take off and fly its mission entirely by itself. If it loses communication with
its ground station, it will try to recover the signal, and
if it cannot, it knows where to go to land or how to
return home, he said.
Still, human operators will remain close by. When a
Triton encounters a target of interest, the ground crew
can take over and “re-task” the UAV to make a closer
inspection, Mackey said.
While Tritons are capable of working alone, they also
will partner with P-8A Poseidon manned maritime patrol
aircraft. The UAVs will serve as wide-ranging scouts for
the anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare planes.
Able to fly further and stay on station much longer
than manned aircraft, the Tritons will provide “
persistent stare,” beaming ISR data to the P-8s, which are
armed with sonobuoys, torpedoes, missiles, bombs
At $193.5 million apiece, Tritons are not cheap.
Recently, the Navy indicated its plan to buy 68 of them
for $13.5 billion might have to be trimmed. The Navy
wants to keep Tritons airborne continuously in each of
its five planned orbits, which would require just 20
UAVs plus some spares. Navy officials say that better-than-expected reliability might make it possible to do
the Triton mission with fewer aircraft.
Mackey said that unlike manned aircraft, which
spend much of their flying in training missions, Triton
training can be done in simulators, keeping the UAVs
available to perform real-world missions more than 90
percent of the time. ;