Two or three RQ-4 Global Hawks will be based in Japan beginning next spring, Defense Department officials announced Oct. 2. (Alan Radecki/Northrop Grumman)
The Air Force’s largest surveillance drone will now be based in Japan, with its eyes pointed toward North Korea and China.
Defense Department officials announced Oct. 2 that two or three RQ-4 Global Hawks will be based in Japan beginning next spring. The move was announced as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was visiting leaders in Japan, but additional details on the specific base or the length of stay were not released.
American officials are still coordinating with local communities on the details of the basing, a senior defense official said.
“This is an example, even as we deal with a complex and difficult budget environment in Washington, we continue to prioritize Asia and ensure that Asia continues to host the most advanced U.S. military capabilities,” the defense official said in a briefing.
The basing would be “seasonal” and not a rear-round stay, but the aircraft would be flying out of a U.S. base in Japan for “a period of a year,” the official said.
Global Hawks regularly rotate out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, but this would be the first basing of the large drones in Japan.
The Air Force flew Global Hawks over Japan as part of Operation Tomogachi in 2011 to assist relief efforts following the earthquake and tsunami in the region. The service also deploys Global Hawks to bases in southwest Asia to fly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in that region.
The move makes sense for the Air Force to place an aircraft with a capability for surveillance over the South China Sea, said Mark Gunzinger, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis.
“It’s extremely long endurance, it’s exactly the kind of surveillance we need in the Pacific region,” he said.
In addition to the Global Hawks, U.S. officials also announced plans to send more Marine Corps F-35Bs and ballistic missile radars and a Navy P-8 maritime patrol to the region beginning in December.