The U.S. Navy’s long awaited MQ-4 Triton surveillance drone took its first flight yesterday in Palmdale, California.
A Navy press release, delivered yesterday, points out that with 360-degree scanning capability and an Automatic Identification System — meaning it can classify different types of ships by itself — the MQ-C4 will be the main Naval spying drone at sea from 2015 onwards. There will be five operating bases, one of which will keep watch over the South China Sea and that likely includes China and North Korea.
But even without its state-of-the-art sensors and cameras, the aircraft itself is capable. It can fly for 24 hours at twice the altitude of commercial jets, reaching a maximum height of 60,000 feet (11 miles).
Apart from being used for combat-related surveillance missions, the drone could also keep tabs on piracy, human smuggling, fishery violations, and organised crime.
Here’s a break-down of the new drone and how it’ll give the Navy even more control of the high seas.
Here's what the U.S. is watching. These are the 5 main operating bases where the MQ-4C fleet will be used, networking with other Navy and Air Force drones — notice the South China Sea region is under watch.
And its sensor systems* can detect and automatically classify different targets at sea or along coastlines.
Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS)
Maritime Radar, Electro-Optical / Infrared (EO/IR) sensor
Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver
Electronic Support Measures (ESM)
With a Rolls-Royce engine, bird-strike resistant wings and a slew of other payloads, the whole aircraft weighs 32,250 pounds — here's what it's carrying.
The Navy could fly the all-seeing MQ-C4 like a big brother over strike fighters — like the F-35 — heading into combat. The surveillance drone would keep everyone in the loop.
Here's how pieces of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program operate together, with the MQ-C4 front and centre.
This is how it compares in size to other well-known aircraft — it's got a generous wingspan of 131 feet and a height of over 15 feet. The drone will last about 6 years before needing a new airframe.*
*the mechanical structure of an aircraft, not including its engine.
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