The U.S. Navy’s first Unmanned Patrol Squadron, VUP 19, and the new home of the Northrop Grumman-built MQ-4C Triton was commissioned in October last year and marked a historic shift into autonomous systems.

“To think about a day like this coming, from dream to reality, it absolutely makes me pinch myself every day,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad told a local Florida news station.

 Triton Soaring Toward Operational Status
Sailors from VUP-19 watch the commissioning ceremony in front of a full-scale Triton model, painted with the squadron’s colors.

The commissioning of VUP 19, known as “Big Red,” is a major step in Triton’s journey to operational status, and it comes on the heels of other important successes for the program. In September 2016, the autonomous system achieved Milestone C approval from the Department of Defense, which marks the beginning of low-rate initial production and deployment. About six weeks later, Triton had its 100th flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Later in the year, crews in Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California manufacturing facility put wings on new models of the aircraft, and test engineers flew a key endurance flight.

“The Triton team dug in this year and, in partnership with our customer and suppliers, took the program to the next level of readiness,” said Doug Shaffer, vice president and program manager, Triton, Northrop Grumman. “We have proven that the aircraft can meet program requirements and be delivered to the Navy on time. Triton’s dynamic capabilities are ready to be fielded.”

 Triton Soaring Toward Operational Status
The U.S. Navy's Triton takes its 100th flight, soaring over the newly commissioned USS Zumwalt near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. in October, 2016.

Triton provides unprecedented, persistent 360 degree maritime domain awareness through vessel detection, classification and tracking. Northrop Grumman’s Triton program team completed Operational Assessment  earlier in the year, and the testing, exercised in various real-world scenarios, validated the system’s ability to protect the Navy’s fleet from evolving threats. They also successfully transferred full motion video from Triton’s sensors, and confirmed the aircraft’s time on station will meet flight requirements.

When Triton goes into the field, VUP 19 will operate the aircraft out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, with a maintenance wing at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu, California. The Navy announced at the VUP 19 commissioning that the first of a planned five forward operating bases will be in Guam. 

“I was honored and humbled to attend the commissioning of VUP 19. Seeing the men and women who will operate the Triton for our Navy was a great source of pride,” Shaffer said. “The Triton mission is vital to the Navy’s security and humanitarian efforts. Our team will continue the momentum we’ve built into the next year and look forward to reaching Early Operational Capability.”

 Triton Soaring Toward Operational Status
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad speaks to a local Florida news station in front of a full-scale Triton model at the commissioning of VUP-19.