The Japan Air Self Defence Force has taken delivery of the first of three RQ-4B Global Hawk remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) from US defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The arrival of the first unit was confirmed by the service, which said the aircraft deployed immediately to the Misawa Air Base, where all three of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms are set to be based.
The aircraft had its JASDF serial 23-6003 applied, but all other Japanese markings were covered by stickers with USAF markings, probably for legal and insurance reasons. All three RQ-4Bs will be operated by the Teisatsu Kokutai, the reconnaissance group once responsible for its sub-ordinate unit 501 Hikotai, operating the various RF-4E Phantom versions from Hyakuri.
The Teisatsu Kokutai was reformed on 18 March 2021 as a temporary unit first, after all three have been delivered it will become a regular unit. At this moment it is not known if a sub-ordinate Hikotai will be formed as the actual unit for the day to day operations.
The first Japanese Global Hawk made its maiden flight from Palmdale (CA) on 15 April 2021 and was noted in September 2021 at Mojave (CA) in full JASDF colours and markings with serial 13-6001. This will probably change once the aircraft is delivered to Japan. The first digit of the serial is indicating the last digit of the year of delivery to the JASDF so following Japanese logic, if delivery is this year it will become 23-6001.
The RQ-4 has a wingspan of 130 feet (39,6 m) and provides near-real-time actionable intelligence for more than 30 hours at a time, at altitudes of 60,000 feet or 17,7 km high. The aircraft has been is US Air Force service since 2001 and has amassed more than 250,000 flight hours with missions flown in support of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, and the greater Asia-Pacific region.