Global Hawk ready to operate from Japan
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The first-ever RQ-4 Global Hawk to touch down in Japan arrived at Misawa Air Base May 24.
The remotely piloted system was brought to Misawa AB to support U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and contingency operations throughout the Pacific theater, and is scheduled to operate from Misawa AB between May and October.
A team of around 40 support and operations personnel from the 69th Reconnaissance Group, Detachment 1 also arrived on station and will remain here to support the Global Hawk mission during operating months.
According the detachment's director of operations, the temporary rotation of the Global Hawk to Japan was decided, in part, as a result of the adverse impact of inclement summer weather on ISR operations in Guam. Given the number of sorties lost due to typhoons and thunderstorms, the need to look for alternate summer basing options arose.
The director explained that comprehensive studies were conducted weighing a variety of factors that ultimately determined Misawa AB to be the most ideal relocation site. He said factors including weather patterns, available facilities, ISR priorities, contingency operation requirements, and costs -- among other issues -- were taken into consideration.
"Our relationship with Japan is very important, so being here reinforces the strong partnership our country has with the Japanese government," he said. "We're confident these operations benefit both parties."
Posturing at Misawa AB not only provides a better option from a weather standpoint, but also expands the U.S. Air Force's global reach by having another base from which the Global Hawk can operate during summer months.
While the primary mission of the Global Hawk is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capabilities to combatant commanders worldwide, the 69th RG Det. 1 commander noted it has also been instrumental in assisting in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
In theater, the Global Hawk can provide near real-time aerial imagery reconnaissance support to U.S. and partner nations assisting in a multitude of operations. This capability was effectively employed during Operation Tomodachi, a relief effort that launched when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake resulting in a tsunami ravaged northeastern Japan in 2011.
The Global Hawk was requested to support relief efforts within 48 hours of the disaster, prompting crews to prepare and launch aircraft only nine hours after official notification.
While airborne, the Global Hawk was able to identify passable roads and territories to enable first responders to plan routes in and out of disaster areas. It also identified emergency landing zones in hazardous areas while providing uninterrupted coverage. Using long-range and infrared cameras, the remotely piloted aircraft provided commanders with more than 3,000 images of the disaster zone.
The director of operations said the Japanese community has been receptive and helpful with the setup of operations here, and he remains optimistic the presence of Global Hawk in Japan will further contribute to ensuring regional stability and foster cooperation between neighbors to address trans-regional issues.
More recently, The Global Hawk was also essential in supporting relief efforts during Operation Damayan following last year's Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The aircraft's persistence in its ability to fly more than 30 consecutive hours provided coverage of upward of 100,000 kilometers of the disaster area within 24 hours. Imagery identifying fires, partially submerged or sunken ships, landscape hazards and distress signals by locals requesting food, water and medical care were found as a result of the Global Hawk's near real-time transmission of satellite images to experts on the ground.
The director said the detachment will be postured and ready to continue the mission at all times whether at Misawa AB or Anderson AFB.