The RQ-4 Global Hawks isn’t a full successor to the famous U-2 spy plane just yet. It’s close, however, and some people have described the HALE (High Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV as the equivalent of having a photo satellite on station. Flying at 60,000 feet for 30-40+ hours at a time, the jet-powered UAV uses sophisticated radars and other sensors to monitor developments on land, sea, and air over an area of about 40,000 square miles/ 100,000 square km. Reported image resolution has been described as 1 foot or less. The USA has made effective use of Global Hawks since their formal unveiling in 1997, which has prompted interest from other countries. Germany has co-developed and inducted its EuroHawk version under a EUR 430 million program, and NATO’s AGS system will deploy Global Hawk UAVs as well.
Outside of NATO, however, sales have been much trickier. Four issues have worked to hold up potential sales – 2 of which are acknowledged openly, and 2 of which tend to play out very much behind the scenes. South Korea ran afoul of all 4 of those issues, when the USA rejected their application to buy 4 of the larger RQ-4B UAVs in 2006. Now, it seems, the tide has turned in the USA, but South Korea is less sure. What’s certain is that the USA will be fielding its own Global Hawks over the peninsula. What’s less certain is whether South Korea will buy some of its own.