Northrop Grumman has signed agreements with four South Korean companies to participate in the RQ-4 Global Hawk programme, and also provided details about the aircraft's prospects in other Asia-Pacific countries.

The four companies are DACC Aerospace, Foosung, KJF and the aerospace division of flag carrier Korean Air, said Northrop.

The agreements are part of the 30% offset requirement of a prospective Global Hawk sale to South Korea, and were signed at the Seoul air show on 18 October.

If a deal is concluded for the high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned system, DACC may provide composite parts, Foosung wire harnesses, KJF machine parts and Korean Air sheet metal.

The deal still needs the formal approval of the US and South Korean governments, with the final contract likely to be finalised within six to nine months.

If this timeframe is met, four Global Hawks will be delivered in 2015 - two in the first half and two in the second.

The USA, which has maintained a military presence on the Korean peninsula for decades, has long pushed for Seoul to play a larger role in its defence.

Republic of Korea Air Force Global Hawks would assume the role now played by US Air Force Lockheed Martin U-2 surveillance aircraft, which are used to monitor activities in North Korea.

Significantly, South Korea's Block 30I Global Hawks will not carry communications intelligence or signals intelligence payloads. This will make them less capable than Block 30 aircraft operated by the USAF (below).

 USAF Block 30 Global Hawk - Northrop Grumman

© Northrop Grumman

Other Asia-Pacific countries that have expressed interest in the aircraft include Australia, Japan and Singapore, along with Canada.

Of these, Australia and Japan are primarily interested in the Global Hawk's developmental Broad Area Maritime Surveillance variant. Japan could also be interested in the aircraft's ground observation capabilities owing to its concerns about North Korea.

Singapore has yet to issue a formal letter of request, but it would be interested in a "unique configuration" with aircraft capable of both maritime and overland missions, said Northrop.

News of Seoul's interest in the Global Hawk emerged in March. In September, government officials pegged the cost of four Global Hawks and one ground system at $850 million.

Northrop declined to comment on this figure, and has said the ultimate cost will be determined by the US government, with any sale to be conducted under its Foreign Military Sales mechanism.

Source: Flight International