The US Navy's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system (UAS) has started operational assessment (OA) at the NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, US, as part of preparations to support milestone C review and entry into low-rate initial production.
Over two months, Triton will conduct six flights and execute several operational test scenarios to assess the system's operational performance.
The OA is being conducted to demonstrate Triton's ability to detect, identify, classify, and track contacts during both day and night operations.
This assessment will allow the navy to identify risk areas and better understand challenges faced by fleet personnel as the system progresses towards the follow-on initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase.
Triton programme manager Sean Burke said: "We worked very hard to demonstrate system performance and stability leading up to the start of operational assessment.
"We are eager to move into initial production as the next step to delivering Triton to the fleet."
The MQ-4C Triton is a new broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) UAS, which complements the US Navy's maritime patrol and reconnaissance force family of systems, delivering signals intelligence (SIGNET), C4ISR and maritime strike capabilities.
Developed by Northrop Grumman, Triton will serve as a forward deployed, land-based, autonomously operated system that provides a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability using a multi-sensor mission payload.
The Milestone C decision is expected to be achieved early next year, following which the UAS programme will enter into low-rate initial production.
The US Navy is expected to buy 68 Triton UAS, with plans to acquire three production aircraft in 2016 and to have the first aircraft operational by 2017.
Image: An MQ-4C Triton prepares take off at NAS Patuxent River in October 2015. Photo: courtesy of US Navy photo.