First MQ-4C Triton drone arrives at Naval Air Station Sigonella

by Tommy Grant

Italy’s Naval Air Station Sigonella welcomed its first MQ-4C Triton surveillance drone last month, marking the second deployment of the long-range drone for Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19, and the latest step in folding unmanned systems into the conventional fleet.

The drone is designed to support the manned P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and the Navy has previously tested Triton capabilities in the Indo-Pacific during rotational deployments.

“The addition of the MQ-4C Triton, right here in Sigonella, is another milestone in the successful development of the Triton program,” Capt. Aaron Shoemaker, commanding officer of NAS Sigonella, said in a Navy release. “We are proud to support [Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19] as they integrate with the Fleet to expand the roles of unmanned aircraft systems operations in our region and beyond.”

The Triton supports missions including maritime patrol, signals intelligence, search and rescue and communications relay, and reached initial operating capability in the Navy in September, when Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

Thus far, the Navy has obtained five of the surveillance drones, which are capable of operating for more than 24 hours, according to a September Northrop Gruman news release.

Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 is the Navy’s first and only squadron of its kind, and is based out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport in Florida. More than 300 sailors are assigned to the squadron, which will have three detachments once fully operational.

“Aircrew gather and process surveillance information utilizing data fusion tools that integrate sensor data from multiple aircraft into a comprehensive networked picture to further assist in building an accurate threat representation,” the Navy said.

Andersen Air Force Base first received two of the drones in 2020 to operate under Commander Task Force 72 in U.S. 7th Fleet for an early operational capability period. The drone also previously deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Misawa Air Base in Japan to “refine the concept of operations for expeditionary basing” during the deployment, the Navy said at the time.

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