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Japan’s RQ-4B Global Hawk takes to the skies for first time

Japan RQ-4B Global Hawk first flight
Photo: Northrop Grumman

US defense contractor Northrop Grumman has completed the first flight of an RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial system it is building for the government of Japan.

The first flight took place on April 15, 2021 from the company’s Palmdale, California, facility.

“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.”

Once fielded, Global Hawk will integrate with other Japanese intelligence assets, including ground-based command and control units. 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.

Northrop announced the first flight after rumors emerged in August 2020 that Japan could walk away from its plan to buy three Global Hawks. Japan Times reported back at the time that the evaluation of the purchase had been spurred by the US Air Force decision to retire its Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawks in fiscal year 2021. This would have left Japan and South Korea as the only operators of the Block 30 Global Hawks. US lawmakers interfered with the US Air Force’s plans in December 2020, protecting the A-10 and Global Hawk from reductions.

In addition to Japan, Global Hawk variants are, or will be, operated by the United States, Australia, NATO and South Korea.