World News

U.S. seeks Asian partners for Global Hawk eye in sky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is proposing to share one of its most advanced reconnaissance aircraft with at least 11 countries in an effort to boost security in Asia and the Pacific.

The United States Air Force's Global Hawk unmanned spy plane at the Royal Australian Air Force Base, Edinburgh near Adelaide in this April 24, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Tony Lewis

A conference tentatively planned for April in Hawaii would discuss an informal regional grouping to support the high-flying, remotely piloted Global Hawk built by Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Pacific Command said on Wednesday.

“Our intent is to involve as many nations as possible in whatever capacity they want to be involved,” the command’s air component said in e-mailed replies to questions from Reuters.

Global Hawk entered service after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. It is designed to survey vast areas with near pinpoint accuracy from as high as 65,000 feet for up to 35 hours. The data can be fed from the $27.6 million aircraft nearly instantly to commanders on the ground.

With its advanced radar, optical and infrared sensors, it will become a key U.S. intelligence asset in Asia and the Pacific when it starts flying from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in 2009.

Partner countries could allow alternative landing and launch sites for the Global Hawk.

The United States is initially pitching the Global Hawk consortium idea to Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Brunei and Sri Lanka.

Capt. Kristen Miller, a spokeswoman for Pacific Air Forces headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, said the list of invited countries could grow later.

Gen. Paul Hester, who heads U.S. Pacific Air Forces, told reporters in Washington last week he hoped to bring Global Hawk to the region next year to demonstrate its capabilities.

He mentioned its possible use to boost existing multinational arrangements for keeping tabs on the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Singapore had requested a Global Hawk landing at Changi International Airport during the projected demonstration flight and talks were under way with Tokyo on showing it off in Japanese air space, Hester said.

Australia, which played host to a Global Hawk visit in 2001, is interested in the proposed consortium. If a formal proposal emerges “we would consider it,” Air Commodore Graham Bentley, air attache at the Australian Embassy in Washington, told Reuters last week.