The MQ-4C Triton, a development program between the Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Navy, is engineered with special long-range sensors intended for ocean surveillance, is able to quickly adjust altitude and incorporates special technologies such as wing de-icing. The drone, Northrop data states, is known for its long endurance as it is able to cover more than one million square miles in a single mission.
The longstanding U.S.-Australian military partnership continues to grow in importance for a variety of respects, including an increased need for additional surveillance throughout the dispersed, vast geographical expanse of ocean in the Pacific. A key element of this can also be found through the integration between the Triton and the U.S. Navy’s sub-hunting Poseidon plane which also patrols the Pacific theater. Armed with torpedoes and advanced on-board sensors and command and control, the Poseidon could potentially receive cues from a Triton regarding areas of interest or concern picked up by its cameras and radar. Perhaps disturbances on the surface, or radar returns from surface ships could alert a Poseidon of suspicious or concerning activity. A large reason for this kind of advantage is in large measure due to simple geography. A Poseidon, which generated vital intelligence video of Chinese phony island building in the South China Sea, simply can’t be everywhere at once and, as a larger, lower-altitude platform, is potentially more vulnerable to detection or even attack from an adversary.
A Triton, however, can operate at altitudes greater than 50,000 ft and, if effectively networked in real time with other platforms such as a Poseidon, could cue sub-hunting aircraft or surface ships regarding areas of needed focus.
Rapid advances in networking technology, aligned with the goals and strategic concepts sought after by the Air Force’s Joint All Domain Command and Control effort, enable much faster and more expansive opportunities for otherwise disparate platforms, systems or command and control centers to process and share information. This reality, further brought to life by multinational coordination with platforms such as Triton, is fortified by artificial intelligence and more advanced Processing Exploitation and Dissemination (PED) algorithms, which can increasingly organize hours, even days of video footage to pinpoint relevant items of importance for human decision-makers. The intent is, among other things, to ease the time requirements and cognitive burdens placed upon human operators by using coordinated, multi-node networking between a growing number of surveillance and target platforms.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.