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Japan’s First Global Hawk Drone Completes Maiden Flight

Acquisition of the remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft will enhance Tokyo’s surveillance capabilities.

The first of three RQ-4B Global Hawk drones ordered by Japan from Northrop Grumman flew for the first time from Palmdale, California, last week, the US defense manufacturer said in a statement. 

The $490 million contract, awarded to the Virginia-based aerospace firm in 2018, includes associated equipment, parts, and logistical support.

“The contract provides for three RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30i air vehicles each containing an enhanced integrated sensor suite payload, two ground control elements … support equipment, system engineering, and program management tasks required to execute, manage, control, and report on all program activities, and a site survey,” according to a Department of Defense statement.

Enhances Japan’s Monitoring Capabilities

Acquisition of the remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft, capable of flying at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) for more than 30 hours, will enhance Japan’s surveillance capabilities.

Ralph Cossa, president emeritus of the Pacific Forum think tank in Hawaii, told Stars and Stripes that Tokyo can use the aircraft to monitor the Senkaku Islands currently under Japanese administration. Claimed by China and Taiwan, the islands have been the site of maritime standoffs in the past.

Paul Buchanan, an American security analyst based in Auckland, New Zealand, weighed in on the possible use of the drones saying that Japan could deploy them to keep an eye on Russia, with which it has an ongoing territorial dispute over four northern islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai. 

Meanwhile, a Japanese government spokesman stated that the drones will be deployed at the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Misawa Air Base this year or later, Stars and Stripes reported.

The Global Hawk

The RQ-4 is capable of gathering “near-real-time, high-resolution imagery of large areas of land in all types of weather – day or night,” the defense manufacturer said.

Apart from intelligence gathering, the aircraft also performs communications relay support for air and ground users through its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node.

“The unarmed RQ-4B Global Hawk will provide Japan with on-demand intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information supporting the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s missions of protecting borders, monitoring threats and providing humanitarian assistance in times of need,” said Jane Bishop, vice president, and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman.

“This successful first flight is a significant milestone in delivering Global Hawk to our Japanese allies.”

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