The U.S. military next year will begin flying Global Hawk surveillance drones from Japan on missions to monitor North Korea, U.S. and Japanese officials announced this week.
The Air Force plans to base two or three of the high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles made by Falls Church, Va.-based Northrop Grumman Corp. from an as-yet unspecified base in Japan, according to an article in The Washington Post.
The news came as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the country. President Barack Obama canceled a trip to Asia this week because of the federal government shutdown over a budget impasse.
U.S. drones, including the Global Hawk, flew over Japan in 2011 to collect data and imagery of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which had a partial meltdown after a tsunami struck the region. But the jet-powered military aircraft has never been stationed in the country before, according to the report.
The Air Force's RQ-4 Global Hawk is the biggest unmanned aerial vehicle in the U.S. arsenal.
The high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft is capable of flying as high as 60,000 feet for more than a day at a time, according to a service fact sheet. It collects and transmits imagery and video using advanced synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and infrared sensors and satellite communications systems.
The Air Force already stations Global Hawks in Guam and the Persian Gulf. Basing the aircraft in Japan will improve U.S. surveillance of North Korea, which earlier this year threatened to attack American allies in the region; as well as China, which has escalated territorial disputes with Japan.
In another first, the U.S. military also plans to station Boeing Co.-made P-8 surveillance planes in Japan, according to the article. The Chicago-based company is talking to potential customers about selling more exports of the maritime patrol plane.