Manufacturer Northrop Grumman expects South Korea and the United States to sign a letter of acceptance for four RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) soon, a company official said at the Singapore Airshow on 11 February.
George Guerra, vice president of HALE Strategic Systems for Northrop Grumman, said there continued to be "lots of interest" from South Korea in the Global Hawk since a 21 December 2012 notification to the US Congress by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
At the time the potential sale was valued at USD1.2 billion and would have seen Global Hawks fitted with the Raytheon Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite (EISS) mission kit. The EISS comprises an electro-optical/infrared sensor, synthetic aperture radar, and ground-moving target indicator elements. The deal also included a signals intelligence and imagery intelligence exploitation package, as well as communications and support equipment.
An apparent U-turn by the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in early 2012 based on price concerns has apparently been overcome, with Guerra saying that since the DSCA notification, Northrop Grumman had been working with the US Air Force on pricing availability requests for South Korea and had sent an offer to DAPA. "We're waiting to hear from them," he said, "and a letter of acceptance (LoA) is expected soon".
After the LoA, DAPA will pass the deal over to the Republic of Korea Air Force for approval. Guerra said he was hopeful of a final contract signature before the end of 2014 on a package that includes four air vehicles and two ground stations.
Guerra added that there was "good progress" on Japan's requirement for three Global Hawks, which was outlined in the December 2013 National Defense Program Guidelines published by Tokyo. Japan has requested pricing availability data from Northrop Grumman, Guerra said. Tokyo budgeted JPY100 million (USD1 million) in its fiscal year 2014 defence budget to examine procuring HALE UAVs with the Global Hawk expected to be the only platform under consideration.
Guerra said he believed the rotation through Misawa Air Base of US Air Force Global Hawks currently based in Andersen Air Base, Guam, from this year will help the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to familiarise itself with the platform and its capabilities before an acquisition of its own systems. Northrop Grumman will also transfer some maintenance and support staff to Misawa to assist
Japan has also outlined a requirement for medium altitude long-endurance UAVs to fill a perceived gap in its ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. Guerra suggested that the Triton variant of the Global Hawk would be better placed to fill this requirement as it has a de-icing system fitted to allow operations at lower altitude, but also said that while some work had been done on BMD sensors for the Global Hawk, the "current sensors are not set up for that".
Guerra was hesitant to discuss other countries but when pressed suggested that Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) controls would limit potential sales to countries such as Singapore - or other nations in the Asia-Pacific region beyond South Korea and Japan. South Korean obligations under the MTCR were relaxed in 2012, allowing Seoul to develop longer-range and higher-payload cruise missiles, and to develop and buy UAVs such as the Global Hawk, which is classified under Category 1 of the MTCR.