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Jacksonville Naval Station To Host New Drones, Sailors

U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy’s new drone program will be calling Jacksonville home.

Naval Station Mayport beat out fellow Florida base Naval Air Station Key West and a NASA flight facility in Virginia for the contract.

Eight unmanned aircraft called MQ-4C Tritons will land in Jacksonville, along with up to 400 additional sailors and their families.

The drones are some of the newest tools the Navy is employing for maritime surveillance, and search and rescue operations.

A Triton drone can fly continuously for more than 24 hours and survey close to 3 million square miles in a single mission.

Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson recommended the Navy choose between Mayport and Key West in a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in April.

Nelson lauded the Navy’s decision Wednesday.

“This Triton will provide the aerial surveillance over the ocean that we need and work in conjunction with our two Navy aircraft: the P3 and the P8. All of this is projecting (the) United States forces’ dominance over the seas,” he said.

Northeast Florida Republican Congressman John Rutherford also praised the decision.

“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,” he said in a statement.

The first drone is expected to join Mayport’s existing squadron of unmanned aircraft in 2020, after completion of a new facility to house them.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.