Global Hawk surveillance drones relocate to Japan as typhoon season ramps up in western Pacific
By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 3, 2019
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Air Force is again sending one of its most high-tech intelligence-gathering platforms to Japan to sidestep extreme weather in the western Pacific.
A detachment of RQ-4 Global Hawks from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, will operate out of Yokota this summer and fall, the 374th Airlift Wing said in a statement Friday. The western Tokyo base is also home to U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force.
The statement did not say how many of the large, unmanned surveillance drones are relocating to Yokota or when they would begin arriving; however, five Guam-based Global Hawks and 105 personnel worked from the base in 2017.
The detachment is responsible for launching and landing the Global Hawks before handing control to airmen in the United States. Their mission involves partnering with Japan and helping with humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counter-piracy and counter-terrorism.
The drones routinely relocate to Japan to avoid typhoons in Guam and the nearby Northern Mariana Islands, which include Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
Last year saw 35 storms, including seven super typhoons, blow across the western Pacific. One of those, Yutu, the second strongest typhoon to ever hit a U.S. state or territory since record keeping began in 1958, devastated Saipan and Tinian in October.
Months earlier, Super Typhoon Wutip brushed by Guam at 161 mph and interrupted the Cope North exercise at Andersen.
In previous years, Guam’s Global Hawk detachment has flown out of Misawa Air Base on the northern tip of Japan’s Honshu island. The drones moved to Yokota in 2017 because of runway construction at Misawa, which hosted the aircraft again last year.
The platform made international headlines in June when Iran used a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a Global Hawk over the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran said it was flying in Iranian airspace, but U.S. Central Command maintains it was in international airspace.
The Northrop Grumman-built drones, which can cost $100 million depending on configuration, are thought to be capable of operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet, high above civilian air traffic, which normally does not surpass 40,000 feet. They can stay aloft for 34 hours and have a range of 14,000 miles.