Shaping a Way Ahead for the Triton: Enabling the Integrated Distributed Force


By Robbin Laird

During my recent visit to Jax Navy, I had a chance to talk with several members of the maritime reconnaissance patrol community about Triton.

A particularly insightful discussion was with Joseph Opp, currently the Northrop Grumman Director/Site Lead for Triton at Jacksonville Navy Air Station, who has served in this capacity for the past three years.

Previously Opp served for thirty years in the US Navy and has been involved while in the service for many years with the maritime reconnaissance patrol community.

In this capacity, he has been in Jacksonville for some time, first with VP-30 and now with Northrop Grumman.

Clearly, the US Navy has worked the relationships between Triton and P-8 to provide a comprehensive ISR/Strike solution set.

Triton can provide the long-haul wide-angle view of the battlespace with P-8 and its organic and third-party targeting capabilities playing the focused targeting role.

To work coordinated operations, the Triton and P-8 crews need to understand from the ground up how each platform works independently and together, to shape an integrateable sensor-striker system.

The Triton can have the dwell time to identify a much wider range of targets than P-8; which then enables P-8 to focus their operation on high priority targets.

I would also add, that in the kind of extended battlespace which has and will emerge, knowing where critical choke points are with regard to an adversary’s system or force becomes a priority task.

An integrateable Triton and P-8 working together can provide significantly greater capability to deliver this outcome, rather than simply operating separately.

By having crews which have operated on the P-8 as well as the Triton, they share an ability to do the kind of ISR appropriate for dynamic targeting.

By working on one platform, then on the other, it is not so much cross-learning as shaping and integrated knowledge base and skill sets to operate in the ASW kill web.

Triton can inform the P-8 before it takes off about the threats in the extended battlespace which then the P-8 can prioritize.

Opp noted progress that is being made with regard to software onboard the Triton. He noted that the program is continuing to work on new workload software for the Triton operators.

With the amount of surface targets on the ocean today in certain regions of the world, this new software can work with AIS data and other systems to help the operators identify threats to be further studied, evaluated and potentially targeted.

This is akin to the mission systems library onboard the F-35s but this mission library is prioritizing maritime threats.

And of course, such threats are crucial for both the US Navy and the US Air Force to deal with, as significant threats to the USAF in the Pacific come from the sea.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, the Triton as an orbital concept of operations airplane is challenging the data management systems which the US Navy currently operates.

There clearly needs to be progress on the data infrastructure side to better handle real time data and to deliver it the combat edge to support operations which increasingly face the challenge of fighting at the speed of light.

There is some confusion with regard to EP-3 and Triton. There are those who see Triton as replacing EP-3. Some of the core capabilities of the EP-3 are clearly being brought to the Triton platform, but that platform has a wider range of vision and activities than the EP-3.

In my view, the Triton/P-8 dyad poses a significant challenge to reworking the C2/ISR enabled force.

On the one hand, decisions can be pushed to the tactical edge.

On the other hand, at the fleet command level decisions need to be made rapidly at the strategic level, whereby determinations of what combination of force is appropriate to the crisis at hand, and how best to aggregate that force effectively?

Triton certainly can be a contributor to fleet wide decision making and at the same time channeling P-8s and other ASW assets (such as the Romeo helicopter) to focus their capabilities on the core targets in the extended battlespace.

But there is another challenge facing both industry and the Navy: how to maximize the advantages generated by an orbit concept of operations set of platforms versus a sortie generated set of platforms?

Triton does the first; P-8 does the second; and the US Navy’s legacy is only the second.

It is early days for sorting out how to get the number of aircraft up to do the kind of orbital concepts of operations for which Triton was designed.

But without enhancing the data management network side of the challenge, the ability to leverage the data generated by Triton will not be maximized.

Triton like F-35 is not being used in terms of storage of data coming off of the aircraft, which makes little sense if the ISR/C2 side of the force will indeed drive the way ahead for the combat force.

The data backbone which was assumed to arrive with Triton is not yet there.

And, in my view, if we move towards LEO constellations to work with Triton to add yet another kill web layer, if the backbone infrastructure is not in place, we will have technology deployed without a solution to how to capitalize on that technology for the evolving combat force.

There are significant opportunities to make use of the post-mission data which F-35s and Tritons can deliver.

But an opportunity without a solution is not a capability for the operational force.

The opportunity is clearly there and provided by the new data rich combat assets.