The Air Force is sending five RQ-4 Global Hawks to Japan to avoid typhoons and continue surveillance flights over the Pacific region. The five aircraft and 105 personnel, currently based at Andersen AFB, Guam, will deploy to Yokota AB, Japan, from May to October 2017.
According to a Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) release, this rotational deployment of the Global Hawk is temporary but necessary to provide a base from which the platform can be reliably operated during the summer. Summer Global Hawk operations from Guam are adversely impacted by the frequency of inclement weather, including typhoon activities.
The deployment comes as North Korea has ramped up missile testing, repeatedly sending test missiles into the Sea of Japan. The Air Force deployed two Andersen-based Global Hawks to Misawa AB, Japan, in 2014 and three in 2015, but kept the remotely piloted aircraft in Guam last summer because the Misawa runway was under construction.
According to PACAF officials, the Global Hawks more than doubled the sortie efficiency during the first deployment to Japan due to better weather conditions.
Japan is in the process of acquiring its own Global Hawks — a possible $1.2bn FMS deal covering the sale of three aircraft and associated equipment was approved by the U.S. State Department in November 2015.