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Japan-US partnership strengthens allied ISR mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing public affairs

Members of the 4th Reconnaissance Squadron from Andersen Air Base, Guam, fostered a partnership with the Koku-Jieitai’s (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) Air Reconnaissance Group at Misawa Air Base, Japan, which received several RQ-4B Global Hawk remotely piloted surveillance aircraft this spring.

The 4th RS, a geographically separated unit attached to the 319th Operations Group at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, has operated Global Hawks in Japanese airspace and held a persistent Indo-PACOM presence for the past 20 years.

Japan’s first Global Hawk landed at Misawa AB on March 12. The nation purchased three aircraft under a foreign military sales program.

According to a Koku-Jieitai statement, RQ-4Bs are being “introduced in order to conduct information gathering in areas relatively remote from Japan, as well as persistent airborne monitoring during situations with heightened tensions.

“It will greatly contribute to operational strengthening of the (Self-Defense Forces) and Japan-U.S. interoperability.”

Operating a remotely piloted aircraft is very different from traditional piloting. Flight crews rely on myriad communication connections ranging from line-of-site to satellite links to control aircraft and their sensors.

Operators need to be knowledgeable of the airframe and flight procedures, and they must be able to adapt rapidly to constantly changing flight conditions. It would take years to develop such a program from scratch. But, why start from square one when a partner nation has spent decades honing such a program to a razor’s edge?

The 4th RS is uniquely qualified to assist – each summer, the unit travels more than 1,500 miles, approximately 2,500 kilometers, to set up shop at Yokota Air Base, thus avoiding severe tropical weather common during Guam’s typhoon season. What’s more, the squadron has become adept at launch and recovery operations on the JASDF’s home turf.

“The 4th RS is providing ad-hoc subject matter expert assistance, usually in the form of meetings and discussions within the bounds of information classification,” explained Lt. Col. John Wright, the commander of the 4th RS, of their partnership with the Koku-Jieitai Air Reconnaissance Group. “On occasion, we get the chance to travel to one another’s units and observe actual maintenance or other activities in person. We’re providing lessons learned, professional insights and best practices, which only come with the vast experience the 4th RS has in conducting launch and recovery operations.”

America places great value on such international partnerships and alliances.

A U.S. Department of State fact sheet states, “The U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of U.S. security interests in Asia and is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity. The alliance is based on shared vital interests and values, including: maintenance of stability in the Indo-Pacific region; the preservation and promotion of political and economic freedoms; support for human rights and democratic institutions; and, the expansion of prosperity for the people of both countries and the international community as a whole.”

Building and strengthening deterrence and defense partnerships such as this helps both countries achieve these goals.

“The partnership between the 4th RS and the Koku-Jieitai Air Reconnaissance Group is absolutely critical in cementing not only parts of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but our bilateral capabilities in the region,” Wright said. “It is, essentially, where the ‘rubber meets the road’ from a lower-level alliance cooperation standpoint.”

Following the U.S. divestment of the RQ-4 block 20 and 30 airframes, the U.S. Air Force has announced its plan to divest the current platform, the block 40, by 2027, punctuating the importance of strong allied ISR programs.

“The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global, all-weather, day or night intelligence and reconnaissance capability,” according to an Air Force fact sheet. “Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection and capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. The Global Hawk provides persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and moving target indicator sensors.”