Japanese general, prepping for new Global Hawks, surveys US fleet at Yokota

Japan's Air Defense Command chief, Lt. Gen. Shunji Izutsu, center, speaks with U.S. airmen about Global Hawk operations at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Thursday, July 2, 2020.


By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2020

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The top U.S. general in Japan showed off an RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone to one of his Japanese counterparts Thursday as the country prepares to field its own fleet of the unmanned aircraft.

U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, Air Defense Command chief Lt. Gen. Shunji Izutsu and about 20 U.S. and Japanese military leaders visited a detachment from the 319th Operations Group that operates the drones at Yokota, according to an Air Force statement released after the visit.

The Global Hawks support U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for joint combatant forces in peacetime, contingency and crisis operations, the statement said.

Japan’s Defense Ministry, in its 2020 budget request, revealed that it planned to create a unit of Global Hawks, which are expected to deploy to Misawa Air Base by March 2022.

Guam-based Global Hawks have operated out of U.S. bases in Japan during typhoon season each year since 2014. This summer, several of the high-tech drones are flying out of Yokota.

The generals’ visit was intended to familiarize the Japanese with how the Air Force conducts Global Hawk air and ground operations, the statement said.

“The United States continues to forward position some of its most advanced capabilities as a part of our commitment to the defense of Japan and to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” Schneider said in the statement.

During the tour, airmen showed their Japanese counterparts maintenance processes and equipment, simulated aircraft takeoff and command and control capabilities. They also explained how the Air Force organizes, trains and equips its reconnaissance forces.

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.

Global Hawks have been used to provide imagery to planners during disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, tsunami relief in Japan in 2011 and typhoon response in the Philippines. They’ve also been used to track wildfires, fight piracy and to search for abductees in Africa.

“Since our arrival last month, our squadron of Global Hawks has safely and flawlessly executed each mission daily, virtually unnoticed, without incident,” Lt. Col. Ben Craycraft, 319th Operations Group Detachment 1 commander, said in the statement.

“Yokota Air Base continues to prove the most ideal location for our operations due to the Kanto Plain’s favorable weather and our ability to conduct operations without causing impacts to Yokota’s flight operations or the local communities surrounding the base.”

Twitter: @SethRobson1