Australia Getting Triton Drones To Hunt Chinese Submarines

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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) What if a Chinese attack submarine were to briefly surface near the coast of Taiwan or in close proximity to U.S. and allied surface ships operating near the South China Sea? Worse, what if a U.S. Navy Poseidon submarine-hunting surveillance plane simply was not in the vicinity or able to capture the threat? Are there enough U.S. and allied intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, spread widely across thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, to sufficiently monitor these kinds of threat circumstances? Some U.S. military leaders may not be entirely sure, which is why there is a consistent chorus among U.S. commanders about the “insatiable” desire for ISR in the form of drones, surface reconnaissance assets, space sensors and surveillance planes.

This is particularly true in the Pacific, one reason why the United States has a longstanding partnership with Australia, a country which operates F-35 stealth fighters, and, among other things, collaborates with America on key weapons developments such as hypersonics testing. As part of this strategic alliance, Australia will soon operate Triton drones.

Greater numbers of new U.S. built high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance Triton drones will soon be patrolling the skies above the Australian shores, a move which further fortifies U.S and allied efforts to keep an eye on Chinese activities in vital areas such as the much disputed South China Sea. The now under construction Triton drones for Australia are slated to arrive by 2023, a development expected to further protect crucial territory in the region such as waters near Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and, Australia’s large exclusive economic zone extending just beyond its shores.

A statement from Triton builder Northrop Grumman says Australia has the world’s third largest exclusive economic zone, that territory up to 200 miles off the coast of a country where another nation needs permission from the host country to conduct economic activities in the ocean. EEZs, as they are called, are also of course crucial to security, particularly in the area near Australia given its proximity to China, the South China Sea and Japan.

“The MQ-4C Triton will be a very important ISR capability for Australia,” Air Commodore Terry van Haren, the RAAF’s air attaché to the Australian embassy, said in a Northrop statement. “It is ideally suited for Australian operating conditions, given its high altitude, long endurance, and impressive sensor suite. The Royal Australian Air Force looks forward to operating the MQ-4C alongside its other ISR and response aircraft such as the P8A Poseidon.”

The intent for Navy weapons developers is to enhance networking between the Poseidon and Triton to better expedite cross-cueing when it comes to submarine hunting. Perhaps a Triton could rely upon its expansive range and mission endurance to cover vast areas and therefore increase the likelihood that it might detect a disturbance in the surface of ocean caused by an enemy submarine? Then, the Triton could in real time cue a Poseidon submarine-hunter to move in for closer surveillance and a possible torpedo attack. Networking extensions are part of how the Navy seeks to implement its Distributed Maritime Operations strategy and mitigate the “tyranny of distance” known to characterize the vast pacific. Effective networking enables dispersed assets to close the geography gap, cover wider areas of terrain and yet sustain crucial connectivity.

The MQ-4C Triton is 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 AI 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 Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

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.

Kris Osborn Editor-in-Chief Warrior Maven 571.316.9098

Image: Northropgrumman.com

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