The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has beefed up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with the introduction of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk.

The JASDF formally inducted the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) during a ceremony at Misawa air base on 15 December, according to the service’s official Facebook page.

The unmanned aircraft’s first flight as a JASDF asset then took place on 21 December.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the RQ-4B will allow Tokyo to maintain continuous surveillance during “times of threat” and contribute to interoperability with the nation’s key ally, the USA.

The JASDF’s first RQ-4B arrived in Japan on 12 March, but at the time bore temporary US Air Force (USAF) markings.

“[The] RQ-4B Global Hawk was introduced in order to conduct information gathering in areas relatively remote from Japan, as well as persistent airborne monitoring during situations with heightened tensions,” said the JASDF at the time of the platform’s arrival.

Japan is buying three examples of the RQ-4 Block 30(I). A Foreign Military Sales programme deal for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft was approved by the US Department of State in 2015.

Other customers for the RQ-4 are NATO, South Korea, and the USAF. The US Navy and Royal Australian Air Force operate the MQ-4 Triton maritime patrol variant.

The RQ-4 can operate at an altitude of up to 60,000ft for more than 32h, according to Northrop. Its range is over 12,300nm (22,800km).

The UAV carries a synthetic aperture radar, which can be used in bad weather or at night to gather long-range imagery. The aircraft also carries a high-resolution electro-optical/infrared camera.

Persistent ISR is a key requirement for Japan and its allies owing to the security challenges posed by China and North Korea.