South Korea has requested information on a possible purchase of four Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30(I)s.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible $1.2 billion sale on 24 December. Though the aircraft is described as a Block 30, the Congressional notification specifically mentions the Raytheon Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite (EISS), standard equipment on the earlier Block 20.
The notification is only the latest step in a long process, and may not result in a sale. Though Northrop and the US have long hoped for such a purchase, South Korea has repeatedly declined due to concerns over cost and reliability.
South Korea is due to take overall command of forces on the Korean Peninsula in 2015, in the process becoming the primary intelligence provider. The US maintains a considerable reconnaissance capability, including Global Hawks, Lockheed U-2s and other systems.
The US Air Force, the type's main operator, is seeking to retire Block 30s due to perceived concerns about its cost of operation and reliability. The US Air Force and US Navy will continue to operate other RQ and MQ-4 models with different sensor payloads. South Korea would be the Global Hawk's second export customer, after Germany.
South Korea faces a significant threat from North Korea, two countries which have been officially at war with one another since the 1950s. Despite a cease-fire and border demarcation, conflicts occasionally flare up.
Northrop Grumman did not respond to immediate questions.