On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy announced that Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville will host its new MQ-4C Triton drone squadron.
Mayport beat out Naval Air Station Key West and the NASA Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia to host the squadron. The new unit will be made up of eight Triton drones and 400 sailors and their families.
The Triton drones are used in intelligence missions and search and rescue operations. The unmanned drones can fly for more than 24 hours and can survey 2.7 million square miles during that time.
Last year, members of the Florida congressional delegation urged the Navy to base the squadron in the Sunshine State. From his perch on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent a letter to then U.S. Navy Sec. Ray Mabus urging him to select Mayport or Key West as the base for the squadron.
“Both installations meet the requirements established by the Department of the Navy as current operations at both airfields are compatible with MQ-4C operations, both airfields provide direct access to overwater operating areas without land overflight, and both installations have existing airfield facilities with the capacity and capability to meet the start-up and on-going operation schedule of the MQ-4C,” Nelson wrote. “Additionally, proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea would be conducive to the U.S. Navy’s need to provide continuous maritime information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in support of national defense objectives and policies.
“Florida is also uniquely positioned to be able to respond to the U. S. Southern Command area of operations, which is in constant need of additional ISR assets like the MQ-4C Triton,” Nelson added. “Basing the Triton in Florida would take advantage of MQ-4C training and operations already being performed by Unmanned Patrol Squadron NINETEEN (VUP-19) and complement P-8A Poseidon maritime reconnaissance and patrol missions, both of which are conducted out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also wrote Mabus on the matter over the summer, urging him to base the squadron at Mayport or Key West. On Wednesday, Rubio cheered the news that the squadron would be based on the First Coast.
“I have long advocated for the Navy to base the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft in Mayport, so I am very pleased it decided to do so," Rubio said. “We look forward to welcoming four new aircraft and the more than 400 sailors and their families who will soon call the Jacksonville area home. Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Triton system is a key component of the Navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.”
Freshman U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., who represents parts of the First Coast in the House, also welcomed the news.
“I am very pleased with the Navy’s decision, which will not only enhance our national security by helping the Navy carry out its important maritime surveillance missions, but is also a huge victory for the Jacksonville community, further strengthening our partnership with the Navy,” Rutherford said. “Naval Station Mayport and NAS Jacksonville are critical assets for our country and our region. The MQ-4C Triton will significantly increase the Navy’s capabilities to conduct surveillance in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Jacksonville prides itself on being the most military friendly city in America, and we welcome the sailors that will operate these aircraft and their families, who have the full support of the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida.”