Japan receives first of three Global Hawk surveillance drones at Misawa Air Base

An RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drone lands March 12, 2022 at Misawa Air Base, Japan. It is the first of three drones operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Antwain Hanks/US Air Force)

An RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drone that landed at Misawa Air Base in northeast Japan on Saturday is the first of three drones operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, according to the maker of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

Photos of the Global Hawk’s arrival were posted to Misawa’s official Facebook page on Monday.

“Congratulations to our JASDF colleagues on their latest skill! The addition of the RQ-4B Global Hawk to the inventory of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force directly supports the defense of Japan and peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” read a message accompanying the images.

The Global Hawk flies at 60,000 feet and has a line of sight to targets more than 340 miles away, according to manufacturer Northrop Grumman.

The exact range of the plane’s cameras and sensors is classified, but a Global Hawk flying near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, for example, could see far beyond the Yalu River, which marks the border between North Korea and China.

Japan’s three Global Hawks together cost nearly $500 million, with deliveries due to be completed this year, Forbes reported April 15, 2020.

The new Global Hawks will “collect intelligence in areas relatively distant from Japan, as well as conduct constant aerial surveillance in situations of heightened tension,” Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement after the drone landed.

The first of Japan’s three Global Hawks left Palmdale, Calif. on Thursday and landed in Misawa nearly 19 hours later, Northrop Grumman said in a further statement Monday.

“The arrival of the first Japan Global Hawk is an important milestone in the development of this critical security asset,” said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager of global surveillance at Northrop Grumman, in her company’s statement. “The autonomous Global Hawk will provide the Japan Air Self-Defense Force with sustained high-altitude surveillance of the Indo-Pacific.”

An RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drone sits in a hangar at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 12, 2022. It is the first of three to be operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

An RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drone sits in a hangar at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 12, 2022. It is the first of three to be operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Antwain Hanks/US Air Force)

The US Air Force has based its Global Hawks at Misawa for several summers since 2014. The drones come to Japan to avoid typhoons at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. For the past few years, including 2020, they have operated out of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo during the summer.

According to an October report by Jane’s Defense Weekly, South Korea has four Global Hawks that are believed to be flown out of Sacheon Air Base near the port of Busan.

The Royal Australian Air Force will acquire seven RQ-4C Tritons, the maritime version of the drone, and fly them from RAAF Base Edinburgh, according to the service’s official website.

The Guam-based Air Force Tritons completed a first deployment to Misawa in October.

The US-Japan defense agreement allows America to share defense technologies such as the Global Hawk, the F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter and the E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft, Lt. Col. Cody Chiles, a spokesman for the Misawa-based 35th Fighter Wing, said in an email Saturday.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has these planes based at Misawa, Chile’s Stars and Stripes said by phone March 9. The Air Force shares the base with the 3rd Air Wing of the Self-Defense Force.

“The acquisition of these platforms and the subsequent operations by our allies sends a strong signal to regional adversaries that the United States and our allies are prepared and ready to seek out and defend our nations against regional threats,” he said.

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