Australia's Ministry of Defence has declared it plans to send a letter of request to the US Navy seeking information on a potential acquisition of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, a maritime patrol variant of the high-altitude Global Hawk.
The intent to issue a formal information request is the next step in the process of acquiring a weapon system from the US government. Such a letter is a request for detailed technical information, including potential modifications and costs.
The letter would be formally issued through the USN, as any potential sale would be government-to-government, with the aircraft formally purchased by the USN and sold to Australia's military.
Australian officials have visited the Triton's assembly line, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk has visited the country in the past.
Triton's first flight is anticipated in the near future, according to USN officials. The USN plans to acquire a fleet of 68 MQ-4Cs, and intends to field them operationally in 2016.
Triton is a substantially-modified variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is flown by the US Air Force for long-range reconnaissance. It adds an electronically scanned maritime radar, automatic information system and a communications relay payload.
MQ-4 has been ordered by the USN as a partial replacement for the aging Lockheed P-3C, which first flew in 1959. The MQ-4s are meant to work in concert with Boeing 737-derived P-8 Poseidon aircraft, several of which have been delivered to the US and Indian navies. Australia is also involved with the P-8 programme, and intends to order that aircraft as well.