USN forward deploys its first Triton UAS to European theatre

Triton Sig
Pictured is the first MQ-4C Triton UAS to arrive at NAS Sigonella. Forward deploying Tritons enhances USN maritime ISR capability.

The US Navy (USN) has forward deployed its first MQ-4C Triton uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) into the European theatre, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, Sicily, Italy.

A Triton vehicle arrived at Sigonella at the end of March. The arrival of such capability under US Sixth Fleet’s area of operations (AOO) demonstrates how the USN is expanding the role of UAS operations in this AOO and beyond, US Sixth Fleet said in a statement.

The Northrop Grumman-made Triton system is a high-altitude, long-endurance UAS designed to augment USN intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability in a maritime patrol role.

Based on the US Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk UAS, the 14.5-metre vehicle brings persistent maritime ISR capability, according to US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

At Sigonella, Triton will be operated by the USN’s Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP 19). VUP 19 is one of two squadrons, the other being VUP 11, established to operate what the navy calls the Triton ‘orbits’ – forward deployment of a unit comprising four Triton UASs, to contribute to continuous surveillance capacity in a region.

The MQ-4C’s arrival at Sigonella within US Sixth Fleet’s AOO marks the establishment of the second ‘orbit’. The first – based in Guam, and again operated by VUP 19 – achieved initial operating capability in September 2023. Currently, the USN plans to establish three Triton ‘orbits’. The prospective location of the third ‘orbit’ is not confirmed.

The deployment of the Triton capability to Sigonella is significant because the base also hosts forward-deployed squadrons of USN Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs). The USN’s MQ-4C concept of operations is to pair the UASs with P-8As, with the remotely operated UASs providing the sustained maritime surveillance overwatch from which the P-8As can then be tasked to investigate contacts of significance. This combination is an early USN example of what is being referred to as manned/unmanned teaming, or MUMT.

In the statement, US Sixth Fleet explained the surveillance benefits of such MUMT integration. “Aircrew gather and process surveillance information utilizing data fusion tools that integrate sensor data from multiple aircraft into a comprehensive networked picture to further assist in building an accurate threat representation.”

The statement added that forward deploying capabilities like Triton also enhances USN interoperability with allies and partners.

by Dr. Lee Willett