Japan’s quest for bringing the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into service moved forward on November 16 when the Pentagon awarded the drone manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, with a $489 million definitization and increase-in-scope contract. The contract covers the manufacture of three Block 30i (international) Global Hawk UAV variants fitted with enhanced integrated sensor suite payload, along with two ground control elements, spares, support equipment and program services. Deliveries are to be completed by September 1, 2022.
Japan’s Defense Ministry selected the platform as its preferred HALE drone alternative on January 18, 2015. Approval of Japan’s ensuing government-to-government foreign military sales (FMS) request – valued in total at $1.2 billion – was then announced to Congress on November 20, 2015.
Once brought into service, the RQ-4s will operate over the country’s southwestern islands, including the disputed Senkaku Islands as well as Okinawa, performing in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role.
A Global Hawk purchase had been considered by the MoD since 2010, but in light of tensions with China over the Senkaku Islands, the plan gained momentum and the government earmarked JPY200 million toward the study of a Global Hawk purchase in its 2014 defense budget.