How much for a Triton

In our recent discussion on maritime patrol the subject of Australia’s purchase of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft came up. The subject of its cost came up and there was some confusion as to what exactly was the cost of them, did it include bell A and whistle B and did the cost include hangars, runways, drainage ditches and the maintainers toilet facilities :)

MQ-4C Triton SDD-1
MQ-4C Triton SDD-1

Another source might throw some light on the subject.

Defence Aerospace has a very interesting article on the German Euro Hawk SIGINT version of the Triton, called the RQ-4E, click here to read it in full.


Without going too deep into that rather dire piece of procurement buffonery it mentions the cost of three Triton aircraft;

The initial cost estimate of the US Navy from May 2014 for three Tritons, including all operationally necessary system components, such as e.g. ground station, is $648 million [600 million euros] (not including import sales tax and customs duties)

Which with a quick conversion courtesy of Uncle Google;

£140m each

This was excluding the SIGINT payload.

It would also seem the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) is also in a spot of bother.

They do have some nice videos though

And here is one of a manned system, doing the business.


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stephen duckworth
July 22, 2015 8:30 am

An Embraer ERJ-145XR costs $22m or £14m and uses 2 RR AE3000 engines. So for 10% you get a big FAA approved airframe,avionics,engines etc. So the other 90% must be for sensors,comms and the ground station.

July 22, 2015 10:33 am

triton would be on the nice to have list but I just can’t see it be worth the cost for a niche capability with the massive certification headache as well for European airspace.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 22, 2015 10:49 am

It is way to early to try and plan to put Triton into the UK’s MPA roster, the USN needs to prove it works in reality still. After the USN has proven it works effectively then we can think about getting it, i would rather get a proper MPA in service and then later on think about adding a UAV if we can afford it.

The Other Chris
July 22, 2015 12:18 pm

The pace we’re working at on HALE and HAPS feels right. Pace of our MALE development could do with some nudging mind you…

Can definitely see the persistence and broad area advantage of a suitable HALE in conjunction with Norway. Ability to keep an eye on surface traffic, sprinkle Ultra’s new F-sized multi-statics around and pipe their sensor feeds to a ground station for monitoring, then target the MPA’s explicitly based on the maritime picture.

El Sid
El Sid
July 22, 2015 1:43 pm

Given that we binned Harrier because we couldn’t afford a separate logistics chain for a unique fleet, what does MQ-4 bring for £140m+taxes + payload costs + support structure costs that we don’t get from additional Sentinels with the new maritime mode at ??£100m flyaway??. I get that extra endurance allows fewer aircraft. But I doubt it pays for the costs of an extra fleet. The Triton is a great toy, which is well suited to the Pacific, but I think this is one instance where we stick with the 80% solution and save our pennies for something that’s more distinctive from what we’ve already got.

stephen duckworth
July 22, 2015 2:02 pm

@El Sid
I don’t know the details of the sensor fit of a Triton or the Sentinel R1 but I would imagine they are very close in ability. The Triton has a crew of four ( on the ground ) whilst in the air and the Sentinel R1 five airbourne. If the unit cost is £ 140m for Triton and £100m for Sentinel you’ve can buy 7 Sentinels for 5 Tritons and do not have to establish a new support structure either which is how much? 80% solution much closer to 90% with that 24hrs in the air @ 575kmh and 18,000m v 9hrs in the air @ 875kmh and 15,000m giving Triton a sensor range and time on station advantage pulled back by its lack of dash ability.

July 22, 2015 4:58 pm

Agree with the other comments, Triton isn’t cheap and should be seen as a nice to have, but definitely niche capability.

P8 should be the priority, for MPA now and as a possible ISTAR/AWACS replacement further down the line.

What’s the off the shelf price-tag for Reaper? Would a handful more with Seaspray be a cheaper alternative way of adding an extra layer of surveillance capability?

Rocket Banana
July 22, 2015 6:01 pm

Forgive me but aren’t you all just looking at the procurement price of P8 vs Triton?

What about the cost of ownership?

What about the fact that only two Triton are needed for near continuous monitoring?

Happy to be corrected but our tiny Reaper fleet is doing very well.

Perhaps Triton is too big but I’d be spending my money on continuous overhead surveillance before spending money on something to prosecute the threat because it is the former we can’t really do.

paul gayler
July 22, 2015 6:42 pm

further to the first comment by forces review, I do remember reading in the original blurb for the scorpion that they intended to produce 3 versions of cockpit; 1man, 2 man and unmanned with the capability of converting between manned/unmanned.

Lord jim
Lord jim
July 23, 2015 5:32 am

How many Global Hawks have the USAF lost since it came into service?