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Japan's first Global Hawk UAV makes maiden flight

The first of three RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30i (international) high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on order for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) conducted its maiden flight on 15 April from Palmdale, California.

Manufacturer Northrop Grumman said the following day that the unarmed RQ-4B will “provide Japan with on-demand intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information” supporting JASDF missions of “protecting borders, monitoring threats, and providing humanitarian assistance in times of need”.

Jane Bishop, the company’s vice president and general manager for autonomous systems, said in a statement that the successful first flight marked “a significant milestone in delivering Global Hawk to our Japanese allies”.

Once fielded by the JASDF, “Global Hawk will integrate with other Japanese intelligence assets, including ground-based command and control units”, noted Northrop Grumman, adding that the capability will “provide solutions to monitor and deter regional threats to ensure Japan has a highly effective national security posture well into the future”.

Selected by Tokyo in late 2014, the UAVs are set to be operated from Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. In April 2020 Japanese lawmakers passed a legislation enabling the establishment of an RQ-4 squadron at the base in fiscal 2021–22.

The latest announcement comes after the US Department of Defense revealed on 19 November 2018 that Northrop Grumman had been awarded a USD489.9 million contract for the supply of the three RQ-4s to Japan under the US Foreign Military Sales programme.

The contract includes “an enhanced integrated sensor suite payload; two ground-control elements; spares and support equipment; system engineering; programme management tasks required to execute, manage, control, and report on all programme activities; and a site survey”, said the Pentagon at the time, adding that work was expected to be completed by 1 September 2022.

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