In about five years Katherine residents will look up and see unmanned drones flying overhead.
The Federal Government has purchased seven new drones worth between $2-$3 billion and RAAF Base Tindal has been named as a forward operating base for the fleet.
A Department of Defence spokeswoman said Tindal will be receiving significant infrastructure investment as a result.
“The MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Air System will be operated from RAAF Base Edinburgh, with a forward operating base for launch and recovery of the aircraft at RAAF Base Tindal,” the defence spokeswoman said
“This will bring significant economic benefits to South Australia and the Northern Territory and there will be significant investment in new facilities and infrastructure.”
Although based at RAAF Base Edinburgh near Adelaide, Tindal will play a role in the deployment of the Northrup Grumman MQ-4C Tritons.
Previous defence advice was there may be a one-third to two-thirds split on the drone fleet between the two bases.
Tindal is already in the throes of a half billion dollar upgrade to prepare for the arrival of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter in the next few years, Australia’s new fast jets to replace the Hornets.
Construction for the arrival of the drones is estimated to start in February 2019 and completion is estimated in June 2022.
The tender includes “the delivery of facilities and infrastructure to support the acquisition of up to six Northrup Grumman MQ-4C Tritons. The scope of works will be delivered at both RAAF bases Edinburgh (SA) and Tindal (NT), including but not limited to maintenance hangars, aircraft aprons, warehousing, high power engine run up area, training support facilities and infrastructure connections to suit”.
The Tritons are large, almost 15 metres in length with a wingspan of 40 metres with a maximum speed of almost 600kmh and can stay aloft for more than a day.
The unmanned and unarmed Triton is a high altitude, long endurance aircraft that will be used for maritime patrol and other surveillance roles.
Supporting missions up to 24 hours, the Triton is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings, for over 2000 nautical miles.
The Tritons will operate alongside the P-8A Poseidon to replace the AP-3C Orion capability.
The endurance of the Triton means it can stay airborne for longer than a traditional aircraft where the pilot is in the aircraft.
Like other Air Force aircraft, the Triton will be flown by a qualified RAAF pilots, experienced in complex airspace.
However the Triton will be flown from a ground station where pilots are supported by a co-pilot while the information gathered is analysed and disseminated by operational staff.
Whilst building on elements of the Global Hawk UAS, the Triton incorporates reinforcements to the airframe and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems.
These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed and will complement the P-8A Poseidon.
The Triton platform has been under development by the United States Navy since 2008.