US deploys Global Hawk aircraft to Tokyo area for first time

A US Air Force maintainer making his way into a hangar packed with RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft, at an Air Force base in the Arabian Gulf.
A US Air Force maintainer making his way into a hangar packed with RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft, at an Air Force base in the Arabian Gulf. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • The United States Air Force is deploying the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft to the Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo for the first time, to strengthen surveillance against North Korea, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Fields, commander of the Global Hawk fleet, told reporters on Wednesday that the base's proximity to central Tokyo would make it easier to submit flight plans to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

He said the US Air Force is involved in various duties in the Pacific, such as dealing with terrorists and pirates, as well as providing humanitarian support.

While he did not specify the targets of surveillance, the newspaper said it is clear the aircraft will be used to provide support to the air and maritime surveillance currently being conducted against North Korea. Pyongyang has carried out a series of missile launches since the start of the year and is also developing nuclear weapons.

Global Hawks can reach an altitude of about 15,000m and remain in the air for about 36 hours. Five such aircraft will be deployed to the Yokota Air Base from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, where the aircraft are normally based.

Four of them have already reached Yokota, and 110 personnel have been transferred from Guam.

The deployment to Yokota will be temporary, from this month until the end of October, the report said.

Since 2014, a number of Global Hawk aircraft based in Guam have been deployed to Misawa Air Base in Honshu island, during the summer when bad weather can adversely affect flight plans. But repairs to the runway at Misawa have led to the aircraft being deployed to Yokota instead, the report said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'US deploys Global Hawk aircraft to Tokyo area for first time'. Print Edition | Subscribe