US Navy MQ-4C TRITON drone deployed for the first time in Europe, at NAS Sigonella 15/04/2024 | Fabio Di Felice

As announced by the US Navy, an MQ-4C TRITON drone deployed for the first time in Europe, at Naval Air Station Sigonella last week.

The drone and its detachment are part of the Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 which celebrated their deployment, and the opening of a specific hangar at the base in Sicily. VUP-19 has only one other detachment deployed overseas, in Guam, with a third one still to be confirmed. This deployment of the US military’s newest intelligence platform will enhance the US 6th Fleet capabilities in its area of responsibility, supporting the US European and Africa Commands, and also the NATO forces, as confirmed in a statement released by Capt. Aaron Shoemaker, Commanding Officer of NAS Sigonella.

At this stage, it is unknown how many TRITON will be stationed in the Sicilian strategic base, just in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, which already enables deployment of P-8 POSEIDON patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The 2 air platforms will create a terrific duo in terms of intelligence gathering, support search and rescue operations, and serve as a communications relay. In accordance with a base spokesperson declaration, the VUP-19 detachment at the base includes 43 maintainers, 3 pilots, and 1 officer-in-charge, with the drone’s 5-member crew per ground station, including a pilot, tactical coordinator, 2 mission payload operators, and a foreign signals intelligence coordinator. The detachment will have regular 6-month rotations every April and October.

In accordance with Northrop Grumman, 5 TRITON have been delivered to the Navy, with the Navy 2024 budget documents accounting for 22 drones in production with another 5 in development. A significant reduction from the - originally planned - 70, and reviewed by a Joint Requirements Oversight Council reassessment, with a price rise of nearly 25% from $194.7 million in 2023 to about $243.2 million per drone due to buying fewer units. The drone reached the Initial Operating Capability (IOC) last September, clearing the way for the TRITON to be employed in operations in the US Indo-Pacific Command.

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