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U.S. Drones to Monitor North Korea

by Brendan McGarry on October 4, 2013

Global Hawk

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.


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{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Dfens October 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Wow, a big, slow target. Just the thing for monitoring China's growing military might. Seems like we've been down this road before. I believe it was the 1950's with an airplane called the U-2. The opponent of our making that time was the Soviet Union. Ring a bell to anyone?


Kim Scholer October 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Oh yes. Will be interesting to see if Global Hawk software is ready for evasive maneuvers.


PolicyWonk October 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm

While fairly big (about the size of a business jet), and not terribly fast, it does cruise at 60,000 feet – well out of range of most missiles. And from that high, you can see a long way in.


Tweedle Dee October 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm

The U2 could fly above 70,000 ft and was taken down by 1950's era SAM's. I don't have high hopes for this.


Dfens October 4, 2013 at 9:00 pm

When you think of people forgetting history, you don't really think about them forgetting the history that was made within the life times of many who are still living today. Hell, it makes you wonder if China lobbied to have us use these pieces of crap. I wonder how many parts of Global Drone are made in China?


DefenseTechGuest October 4, 2013 at 10:03 pm

0 parts.

Rest Pal October 8, 2013 at 12:04 am

up to 100% in a few years.

either go without it, or produce the pseudo-high-tech toy at an affordable price.

aaa October 5, 2013 at 12:46 am

yeah you're right… I'm sure our mission planners will send em right up and over the top of Pyongyang….


Rest Pal October 8, 2013 at 12:05 am

they always do.

Rest Pal October 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm

the US used U-2 over China in the 1960s as well.

At least 5 U-2s were downed by the PLAAF.


Bernard October 4, 2013 at 10:56 pm

You're assuming that they'll be able to find it on radar. The global hawk has a very low RCS. Also it has no pilot and streams it's data back in real time using line of sight satellite coms. Even if a few are shotdown no people die and the intel isn't lost.


Dfens October 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

Sure, just look at it with that huge ass wing span. What surface could possibly cause a radar reflection? No doubt that drone is rewriting all the books about stealth.


Bernard October 5, 2013 at 9:35 am

It's not the wingspan, it's the wing material. Some materials are transparent to radar. Since the wings carry no metal parts inside or out, radar transparent wings would work.


oblatt1 October 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

but they dont. the global hawk has the radar cross section of a whale

citanon October 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

The Global Hawk will obviously be flying over international waters. The stuff that fly over NK are not announced, not named, and their existence is probably not even acknowledged.


Dfens October 10, 2013 at 6:50 am

Yes, obviously you are right, but North Korea and China has not always been known to respect the boundaries of what we call "international airspace". We used to have aircraft that would fly right over the black heart of the f'ing Soviet Union, the largest nation on earth and give them the finger while taking pictures of their military crap. When does this country turn back into the one I grew up in that was able to do shit like that again?


COL B October 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

ding…ding…Does 'Francis Gary Powers' ring a bell??


hank October 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Why are we still spending money on these when they aren't nearly as capable as the 50+ year old U-2s?


DefenseTechGuest October 4, 2013 at 10:04 pm

These are block 40 global hawks.


Bernard October 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm

U2'S require a human pilot, these don't. That's a massive advantage.


Rudd October 5, 2013 at 9:20 am
EW3 October 6, 2013 at 12:24 am

You ever hear of Gary Powers?


Dfens October 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

Sure, because there's no one to get their finger in the way when they hit the picture button. Don't you people know nothin?


Bernard October 5, 2013 at 9:31 am

A downed recon pilot is a huge intel risk, furthermore they could die, get tortured, and/or be used as political leverage… :-


oblatt1 October 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

The contractor profit margins of the global hawk is way above that of the U2.
And since they are prone to failure you have to buy more.


Dfens October 7, 2013 at 7:36 am

Hell yeah, NG's slogan is "go ahead and crash them, we'll build more!"


Anom October 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Francis Gary Powers


Nick October 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm

You sir are apparently the only person here who gets it.


Comeagain? October 4, 2013 at 5:31 pm

there is no pilot…


Drift October 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm

This thing is perfect for BAMS and monitoring the North Korean nuke program. It doesn't need to fly OVER targets but loiter in the area for long periods of time


Hugo October 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Real time images, (Unlike the U-2), you can take it down, but the info is already home.


Dfens October 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Yeah, broadcast a signal full time, just in case they don't find you because of your huge ass radar return. Great idea. By the way, the U-2 can transmit images "real time" too. They don't still use film cameras. Hell, why do you think that piece of crap is such a cash cow for Lockheed? They've got a project group full of people who are constantly employed updating that antique. That's also why the SR-71 was retired. No need to constantly upgrade it. It was still hot shit after decades of use.


DefenseTechGuest October 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I believe we've found our Lockheed Martin employee here, folks.


AAA October 5, 2013 at 12:43 am

lol, your replies have been spot on DefenseTech Guest.


Dfens October 5, 2013 at 9:24 am

Get a room.

hibeam October 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I guess this is Ok if we don't mind the ground beneath our feet being turned into fire.


RRGED October 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Now why would you wanna announce this publicly?


Cyberdude October 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

NO KIDDING. Has our national security effort gone 'uber-transparent'?? Or, maybe it's the administration's new politically correct / touchy feely strategic approach to keeping our enemies happy. What a freakin' joke.


charles October 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Just why does it matter. North Korea know about satellites and U2's monitoring them.


guest October 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm

They are announcing it publicly to condition the public into accepting such provocative or criminal acts as normal. Notice how some Senators, representatives, and Obama's cabinet members act like rabid dogs when they are talking about espionage by foreign countries. But when the US is doing it on others, it's all supposed to be righteous and justified.

To gradually desensitize people's innate sense of morality, a commonly used propaganda tactics is to regularly publicize spying activities with some false accusation or excuse as if it's a normal part of everyday life. It obviously worked in the U.S.


ames October 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I concur. When a lie is repeated in the media long and often enough, it will be perceived as truth. At least that's how it is in this country.


Karl October 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm

FYI there is a pilot for the RQ-4, RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) should clue you into that. Capable, yes. If shot down, which is highly unlikely, there is no loss of a soul on board. Unpopular but smart move on an already available asset.


William_C1 October 5, 2013 at 3:43 am

I must question how survivable these will be against whatever long-range SAM systems North Korea has, but those saying "repeat of history" seem to be forgetting the fact that this is an UNMANNED aerial vehicle. So at least there is that.


NathanS October 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm

We'll find out I guess, but they're not likely to send these things over if they were just cannon fodder.


ronaldo October 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm

You do know that it has an electronic counter measures suite, don't you ?

Sheesh !


Docsenko October 8, 2013 at 12:27 am

It is also cheaper than the newer stuff. It will keep N. Korea busy for awhile.


anthony October 5, 2013 at 6:18 am

We have so many sats in air, that we can even make shots of these planes..Youd wonder what they are up to when they release to air almost every…….We are and stay ahead…


Dr. Horrible October 7, 2013 at 12:55 am



Docsenko October 8, 2013 at 12:28 am



anthony October 5, 2013 at 6:22 am

One, a lockheed martin employed what ever they are doing doesnt have the time to discus such things ,even after working there. If still empl. they would have been sacked,chucked out with vocal limitations!! Its been done a few times…


oblatt1 October 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Every time donuts are delivered to Asia the airforce makes a big thing about it. Got to make it look like something is happening.
Otherwise the pacific pivot would look kind of pathetic.


Vpanoptes October 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

As if we do not already have drones monitoring NK….


guest October 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Exactly. All those satellites in space, drones in the sky, and spies on the ground.


Propaganda October 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm
Propaganda October 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm
Propaganda October 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm
Jon October 6, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Figure this is a job better handled by NRO, less risk to use overhead survalance platforms than strategic and tactical UA systems.


hibeam October 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Whats to monitor? Let me help you out. The nukes we said they could never have? They got em. Hope that helps. Next up? Monitoring Iran's nukes.


Mad Dog October 7, 2013 at 4:39 pm

So no one remembers Navy EC-121 callsign Papa Romeo 21 that was shot down in International Airspace April 15, 1969, with loss of all 31 crewmembers? April 9, 1975, I was in an EP-3E and an NK MiG-21 launched an AA-1 at us.

Manned recon aircraft against NK is agenuine risk.


gaby haze October 7, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Wow. Oson AFB can smell a kimchi
fart in NK in nano seconds. The GH is only good to snifff out the residuals of nuke testing.


charles October 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

OsAn not Oson. and there are not US Air Force Bases on foreign soil. They are Air Bases.


charles October 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm



misanthrophe2 October 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

More hubris eminating from Imperial America in unwarranted provocations against North Korea. Interestingly, none of the preceding commentors have even questioned the legitimacy of US drone flights over North Korean territory . Our nation is on the brink of internal collapse and yet the insanity of US military imperialism continues unabated. As the world watches on, Obama plays his fiddle, while we Americans continue to revel in a mad orgy of collective degradation. Why must the US further provoke NK (or any other country) for no apparent reasons? The military-industrial-media complex that controls the thought processes of most Americans continues to run amok. Our national past-time has become waging unwinnable, sequential wars of aggression thoughout the world. The good news for the rest of the world is that imperialism is a self-defeating system, and sooner or later the United States will succumb to its murderous legacy.


davec October 8, 2013 at 9:20 am

1) No one said the drones were going to fly over North Korean territory. At 60,000 feet they can see much of the country from offshore, particularly the missile launch sites on or near the coast.
2) The North Koreans were deliberately and extremely provocative earlier this year. In case you don't remember, they promised to turn Seoul into a sea of fire, and to nuke the U.S. Whether they can or not, they were belligerent and hostile. Given their track record and the capabilities they are trying to develop, keeping a close watch on them is not provocative or aggressive – it's prudent and cautionary. So spare us your anti-U.S. polemics and look at the world situation.


misanthrophe2 October 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

I have long been looking at the word situation and no where can I find a mandate that designates the US as the world's police force. As long as US troops continue to occupy the ROK, NK will justifiably consider our presence as a provocation. I speak from the position of one who 'served' six years in Korea in the US Army. Quite simply, you can't continue to taunt the bulldog without eventually being bitten. Seems to me, we Americans have plenty to busy ourselves with in correcting the massive deficiencies of our own dysfunctional country rather than involving ourselves in conflicts that serve only to increase the profit margins of the military-industrial-media complex that drives our imperial ambitions. Let South Korea and North Korea work out their differences. It would help a great deal if there was no foreign military presence in the south. Just my opinion!


Smith28 October 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

Honestly the way I see it is like this; no matter on which side of the road we choose to stand on, we as Americans are going to be threaten and bashed as being who we are. There are people out there that just honestly don't care whether we are 'here or there' the see us as a general threat to their ideals regardless of what we do.

i.e – During the WWII Japan itself saw the US as a general threat to its attempts of Pacific Control and attack us. At that time the US had largely remaind out of the war only taking trade and supply actions.

I do hate the fact we're constaintly diving into other countries issues, but we do hold obligations to SK as an ally, just like they hold obligations to being our ally. Regardless I personally think NK is full of crazed nut jobs anyways and would find ways to threaten us, even after we were to say pull of out of SK.

In real in reality the SK have been trained and equip by us anyways, It wouldn't be a easy fight, but NK wouldn't last very long agsnit SK military.

my view on it all.


Rest Pal October 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

davec, if you are going to use terms like "deliberately and extremely provocative", always use them on the US government, because you'd be right practically 100% of the time. It's not anti-U.S., but anti-lies, anti-hypocrisy, anti-propaganda, anti-imperialism, anti-war.


Rest Pal October 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

Excellent observation, misanthrophe2.

Here is a recent story of an NSA's ambitious project in domestic espionage that would put the former USSR and East Berlin to shame. The United Police States of America is near full blossom.

zerohedge online article oct 8, 2013:



wtpworrier October 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm

No no…I no think North Korea want to attack Japan, mesa no think so!!!


Adam October 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

OPSEC at it's finest…why does the world need to know that we're monitoring Korea?


Troy October 14, 2013 at 1:39 am

Right now none of our US Generals want peace time. So think about a scenerio where they're given the oppurtunity and excuss to spy on a volintile country, who in good chance will shoot these planes down. The generals sitting in those chairs just got there oppurtunity to push more US boots into the Pacific.


Dfens October 5, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I'm sure the voices in his head told him they are transparent. Transparent aluminum straight out of Star Treck, no doubt.


Bernard October 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

Making things up of thin air now are we? You cannot determine the RCS of an aircraft by looking a picture, so until you have a reference to verify your info I'm going to have to call BS.

Regardless, the success of the Global Hawk thus far already prove that it can handle the North Korea mission. http://www.northropgrumman.com/Capabilities/RQ4Bl
"Following is a brief summary of the system’s performance supporting Operations
Enduring Freedom, Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom:
More than 15 combat missions
 More than 350 combat hours
 Collected more than 4,800 images including:
o 1,296 electro-optical
o 1,290 infrared
o 2,246 synthetic aperture radar
 Located more than:
o 13 full surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries
o 50 SAM sites
o 300 SAM canisters
o 300 tanks, 38% of Iraq’s known armor
o 70 SAM transporters"

Also, I can't verify the reliability of this, but it seems legit so here it is: http://www.deagel.com/AEWandC-ISR-and-EW-Aircraft
"For enhanced survivability the RQ-4A unmanned aircraft features low observable technologies such as reduced radar cross section."


platypusfriend October 6, 2013 at 2:28 am



Dfens October 6, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Wow, an internet expert! Who knew?


oblatt1 October 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm

>You cannot determine the RCS of an aircraft by looking a picture

But apparently you can tell that it dosn't have one LOL

15 missions over 3 campaigns that says it all about what an unreliable failure global hawk is.


Dfens October 8, 2013 at 7:42 am

You can tell a surprising amount from a picture if you know what you're looking for. The analysis results are mainly to point out any errors you made or places that you didn't properly visualize in your CAD layout of the airplane surfaces. The most obvious feature of stealth is the alignment of and minimization of the edge angles and chines. Plus, there is no magic coating or avionics box that bestows stealth on an airplane. It is designed into the shape or it doesn't exist, as Boeing is finding with their F-15.


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