Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is dispatching a team to train on Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton UAV in the run-up to a possible decision next year on whether to re-establish a maritime patrol capability.
Responding to a parliamentary question April 3, the government said that four personnel are “scheduled to train on the MQ-4C Triton during June and August, 2014.”
The Triton is a maritime version of the Global Hawk remotely piloted surveillance vehicle. The high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft is in its flight-test phase ahead of deliveries to the US Navy.
The British government said the team will be trained at the US Navy’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said on a number of occasions that unmanned aircraft could meet at least part of the requirement for a future maritime patrol aircraft capability if the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) resurrects the requirements.
The government controversially axed Britain’s maritime patrol aircraft capability as part of a budget-cutting exercise in the 2010 SDSR when BAE Systems’ long-delayed and over-budget Nimrod MRA4 program was canceled before the aircraft entered service.
Two demonstration versions of the Triton are scheduled to be delivered to Patuxent River in the next few weeks, having last month completed initial flight testing.
Triton has already been ordered by the US Navy to operate alongside Boeing P-8 Poseidon MPAs. Australia has also said it intends to buy the machine to work with the P-8s it has on order.
Northrop displayed a mock-up of the high-altitude Triton at a Royal Air Force show at its Waddington, England, base last year.
The British parliamentary answer also revealed that 20 personnel have been embedded with US Navy P-8 operations as part of a program to retain crew skills until a decision is made on whether to recreate a maritime patrol capability.
The program, known as Seedcorn, has also seen smaller numbers of personnel embedded with Australian, Canadian and New Zealand maritime patrol forces.
An MoD spokeswoman declined to elaborate on why the British personnel were being trained on Triton, but said it is part of a wider effort to develop capabilities.
“The Seedcorn program provides a valuable opportunity to UK personnel for training, specialization and exposure within the maritime environment while working with our allies to develop our capabilities. Triton forms only one element of this program and only a small, select number of UK personnel are involved in work, which operates from Patuxent River,” the spokeswoman said.
Representatives from Northrop declined to comment.