MELBOURNE, Australia — The Royal Australian Air Force is on track to take delivery of the first of six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drones in 2023, a senior official said Tuesday at the Avalon Airshow.

Group Capt. Jason Lind, the director of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare at Air Force Headquarters in Canberra, said the country has allocated AU$1.4 billion (U.S. $1 billion) for the acquisition of the aircraft and ground control systems. It’s expected the total spent over the life of the program will fall between AU$3 billion and AU$4 billion.

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper forecast the requirement for seven Triton drones under Project Air 7000 Phase 1B to supplement the manned Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft with the Air Force’s Surveillance and Response Group. A decision to acquire six aircraft was announced by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne on June 26, representing Gate 2 (Second Pass) approval. A decision on the seventh aircraft will be made at a later date.

Australia is acquiring the multiple intelligence gathering version of the Triton, and the Gate 2 decision saw the firm order for the first aircraft, with the others to be added as milestones are achieved and as the variant matures in service with the U.S. Navy.

All aircraft are expected to be in service by mid-2025.

Lind said Australia has entered into a cooperative development program with the U.S. Navy to further develop the Triton, adding that eight Royal Australian Air Force personnel and defense officials are embedded in the U.S. program office. He said the program will leverage experience gained through a similar cooperative program currently in place for the P-8A.

“We have learned a lot of things and derived a lot of ‘goodness’ out of the Poseidon cooperative program, and we’ll be working closely with the U.S. Navy to further develop Triton and how we can leverage off some of their support methodologies as well,” Lind said.

“I think Triton brings something incredibly different to the RAAF and the wider Australian Defence Force."

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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