Japan’s first Global Hawk completes maiden flight

Northrop Grumman has successfully completed this maiden flight of the first RQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The first flight occurred on April 15, with the aircraft operating from Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California. AirForces Intelligence data states that the JASDF currently has three examples of the RQ-4B Block 30i Global Hawk on order, which will be fielded in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role when operational.

Japanese RQ-4B Block 30i [Northrop Grumman]
Japan's first RQ-4B Block 30i Global Hawk successfully completed its maiden flight from Northrop Grumman's facility in Palmdale, California, on April 15, 2021. Northrop Grumman

Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems at Northrop Grumman, said: “The unarmed RQ-4B Global Hawk will provide Japan with on-demand [ISR] information, supporting the [JASDF’s] missions of protecting borders, monitoring threats and providing humanitarian assistance in times of need. This successful first flight is a significant milestone in delivering Global Hawk to our Japanese allies.”

This first flight comes after Northrop Grumman was awarded a US$489.9m contract on November 19, 2018, to produce and deliver the three RQ-4Bs, enhanced integrated sensor suites, two ground control elements, support equipment and related spares/repair parts. The sensor suite comprises electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and a signals intelligence (SIGINT) suite.

At present, there are four active operators of Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 family of HALE UAVs. NATO employs five examples of the RQ-4D Phoenix, the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) owns four RQ-4B Block 30i Global Hawks and the US Air Force (USAF) operates 20 RQ-4B Block 30s, 11 RQ-4B Block 40s and four EQ-4B Block 20s.

The US Navy employs three RQ-4A Block 10s and five MQ-4C Tritons, which is the maritime variant of the Global Hawk family. The Royal Australian Air Force will also be a future operator of the MQ-4C, with plans to acquire six examples – three of which have already been ordered.