Procurement: Hawk Eyes On North Korea

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October 22, 2007: South Korea is buying four U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs (PHOTO). At least it is starting the acquisition process, by setting aside $20 million to lease an RQ-4 this year, for evaluation flights. The final buy decision would be made by 2009, and the four UAVs would be in service by 2011. If that plan is followed, the South Koreans would probably get the $60 million B version, which is larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet longer at 48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment. To support that, there's a new generator that produces 150 percent more electrical power.

The first three RQ-4Bs entered service in 2006. At 13 tons, the Global Hawk is the size of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145), but costs nearly twice as much. Global Hawk can be equipped with much more powerful, and expensive, sensors, than other UAVs. These more the double the cost of the aircraft. These "spy satellite quality" sensors (especially AESA radar) are usually worth the expense, because they enable the UAV, flying at over 60,000 feet, to get a sharp picture of all the territory it can see from that altitude. The B version is a lot more reliable. Early A models tended to fail and crash at the rate of once every thousand flight hours.

The RQ-4B would be able to fly just outside North Korea air space, and still be able to see everything going on inside North Korea. Since Global Hawk's can stay in the air for 24 hours per sortie, South Korea would have better coverage of North Korea than by using several, more expensive, spy satellites. The RQ-4B could also be used for maritime reconnaissance.

 


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