The Arrival of Triton in the Pacific: New Manned-Unmanned Teaming Capabilities and Delivering new C2/ISR capabilities


The first two MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft arrived in Guam over the past weekend.

“The inaugural deployment of Triton UAS brings enhanced capabilities and a broad increase in maritime domain awareness to our forward fleet commanders,” Rear Adm. Peter Garvin, the commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, said in a Navy statement.

“VUP-19, the Navy’s first dedicated UAS squadron supported by an outstanding NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) and industry team, is superbly trained and ready to provide the persistent ISR coverage the Navy needs.”

“The introduction of MQ-4C Triton to the 7th Fleet area of operations expands the reach of the U.S. Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force in the Western Pacific,” Capt. Matt Rutherford, the commander of CTF-72, said in the statement.

“Coupling the capabilities of the MQ-4C with the proven performance of P-8, P-3 and EP-3 will enable improved maritime domain awareness in support of regional and national security objectives.”

“This significant milestone marks the culmination of years of hard work by the joint team to prepare Triton for overseas operations,” Capt. Dan Mackin, the manager of NAVAIR’s Persistent Maritime UAS program office, said in a statement. “The fielding of the Navy’s premier unmanned aircraft system and its additive, persistent, multi-sensor data collection and real-time dissemination capability will revolutionize the way maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is performed.”1

Andrew McLaughlin of ADBR noted the event from the Australian perspective and added comments with regard to its importance for Pacific defense.

“The deployment of Triton to Guam brings the system a little closer to Australia and its maritime approaches. The RAAF currently has two MQ-4Cs on order of a requirement for six systems, the first of which is expected to be delivered in 2023.

“RAAF Tritons will be home-based at RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide, although air vehicles are expected to be forward deployed to RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory to provide a ‘sixth orbit’ to neatly complement the five planned deployed locations for the US Navy Tritons. Apart from Guam and Point Mugu, the US Navy also plans to base Tritons at NAS Jacksonville in Florida, the Persian Gulf region, and Sigonella Air Base in Italy.”

We have visited the allied bases from which P-8 is being operated in both Europe and in Australia, and have visited Edinburgh where the data management system established there allows for a full blown focus on manned-unmanned teaming in the maritime domain awareness and ASW area.

What can be missed is that this is a major step forward with regard to real world manned-unmanned teaming in a critical area of combat capability.

As we noted in an article published on 9/27/19:

The Triton unmanned system is a key building block for 21st century maritime operations.

In effect, the Triton provides capabilities similar to a low-earth orbiting system which can serve directly the maritime task force commander.

Indeed, a key dimension of the coming of Triton is to ensure that intelligence communities not consider this their asset but ensure that it is considered an operational asset for the fleet, and as part of the maritime domain awareness 360 degree capabilities for the fleet operating as three dimensional warriors.

After our visit to Jax Navy in 2016, we highlighted the importance of this aspect of the coming of Triton, or more accurately, of the coming of the P-8/Triton dyad to the maritime services.

Another key advantage is shaping domain knowledge of the key geographical areas where the dyad will operate.

“The Poseidon operates from 15-30,000 feet normally; the Triton will operate at 50,000 feet and take a broader view.”

The world looks differently at each altitude but by rotating crews, a unique perspective is gained by operating at the different altitudes and with different operational approaches to gain knowledge dominance.”

This is an approach for a new generation which “wants choice in their careers, rather than being locked into a single platform.”

This is about crew resource management as well. It is abut shaping, developing and deploying the right skill to the task.

But the capabilities of the dyad are so good in terms of richness and fidelity of information there is already a tug of war between the intelligence community and the operators.

In an era of distributed lethality or distributed operations in the extended battlespace, the decision makers in the fleet, need the information to inform time-constrained decisions.

The fleet commanders need to make timely decisions; the intelligence community wishes to collect information, first, and inform decision makers later. This structural division will simply not work in the era of distributed decision-making and distributed lethality.

The information-decision cycle has to change to adapt to the technology.

“We need an effective cross-domain solution.

The huge divide between intelligence and operations has to be closed.”

Their experience is suggestive that there is a broader need for a very robust discussion on real time actionable intelligence information.

US National Command Authority enforcement of Rules of Engagement (ROE) has had a “good and other” progression over time. The “good” is thoughtful ROEs can save lives from fratricide and friendly fire while still allowing direct and indirect fires to destroy the enemy.

The “other” is what we have quipped is the new OODA loop, an OO-L-DA loop in which  L stands lag time in combat tempo for Legal review. But after Navy Jax we came away with concern for what yet again is a roles and mission discussion on the flow of strategic and tactical “Intelligence ROE”

If not addressed and debated early, a template of actionable intelligence information going directly into IC NRO/NSA/NGO and upper echelon  commands to be analyzed and disseminated may inhibit combat effectiveness and the decisiveness need to prevail in the contested and extended battlespace.

Time sensitive intel is critical at lower level direct action combat commanders from  the Squadron pilots,  CAG and Strike Group Commanders. The ROE in the traditional IC formula of “up and out” may not be in harmony with ever evolving speed of light sensor shooter  technological advances.

The featured photo shows an MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) idling on a runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam after arriving for a deployment as part of an early operational capability (EOC) test. US Navy Photo




  1. These quotes were taken from an article by Ben Warner, USNI News, which was published on January 27, 2020.