South Korea to finally purchase Global Hawks from the US

After going back and forth on the purchase for six years, South Korea will plop down $1.2 billion on four high altitude Global Hawk surveillance drones from the US.

The deal requires approval from the American Congress, which was reluctant in years past, but is likely to go through this time due to increased provocations from the North, as well as heavy lobbying from Northrop-Grumman over US military budget cuts putting a crimp in their bottom line.

Depending on who you ask, the reason prior sales never went through was either South Korean sticker shock over the steep price or, according to Defense Industry Daily, American worries that the ROK would reverse-engineer the highly guarded technology.

Secrets are one issue that is not discussed openly, because of the sensitivities around telling a country that it cannot be trusted with secrets – even when that belief is well founded…Reports in November 2011 that South Korea engaged in attempts to reverse-engineer American military technologies have reportedly stalled American interest in a Global Hawk sale, and may do wider damage, if true.

Defense Industry Daily also cited earlier snags in the purchase on the deterioration in US-Korean relations under the Roh Mu-hyun administration as well as a 2008 survey of ROK military cadets in which 34% polled viewed America as South Korea’s “main enemy.”

According to the Washington Post, arms-control advocates are expressing fears that an approved sale will create an arms race in the region as well as give diplomatic cover for China and Russia to increase military exports.

I guess the advocates dismiss the recent North Korean missile launch and the ongoing nuclear weapons program as part of an arms-race?


  • MannyBalut

    Of course the Koreans will reverse engineer it but the Americans won’t care because their greed triumphs over their common sense. Americans don’t seem to have the ability to think long term…its all about the next quarter profits. It’s one of the main reasons America is on a downward spiral and so many American jobs have been exported overseas. America is too short sighted and greedy for her own good.

  • Jakgani

    $1.2 Billion for four Northrop Grunman RQ-4 Global Hawks is a bit steep – especially as they sell for  US$218 million each
    ( 4 x  US$218 million = US$872 milion)

    Perhaps SK should continue looking at getting the Global Observer or the Phantom Eye or continue working on their own domestic UAV development program.

    Even the RQ-4E, MQ-4c Triton and EQ-4B are better equipped than these.

    South Korea…. always wanting to keep up with Japan.

  • YangachiBastardo

    I see your point, Korea though is too small to cause real damage with their reverse engineering and it’s a valuable ally.

    Transfering shale gas technology to China is indeed another story 

  • Adams-awry

    You should change your headline. Most people reading “SK” will think you a referring  to the chaebol.

  • mightymouse

    It is overpriced. Korea is going to try to get Americans to knock down the price of these UAV. Supposedly the US boosted the price to $1.2B after upping it several times. 

  • George_Smiley

    I have no doubt in my mind that this technology will be put to good and appropriate use and I can sleep better at night that those at the terminals, their joy-sticks in hand, won’t abuse their power and the potential for domestic surveillance or other any intrusive, nefarious or otherwise creepy purpose at all. :facepalm:

  • wangkon936


    I wouldn’t be surprised if 34% of Americans would think that South Korea is America’s main enemy.

  • wangkon936

    I think the risks of reverse engineering are small.  South Korea legally reverse engineered parts of the F-16 for their T/A-50 trainer/fighter (with A LOT of help from Lockheed) and it’s taken South Korea 8 years to get a working prototype in the air.  It took 17 years to get barely 16 overseas sales (Indonesia).

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I take the opposite view.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the 34% of Americans who even have an opinion about Korea got whatever they might know about Korea from M*A*S*H*

  • BobbyMcG

    Wangkon, point taken. I will be surprised when less than 34% of my countrymen and women, offer the reply, “you live in North or South Korea??”

  • BobbyMcG

     Adams. Good point. Done.

  • dlbarch

    WK is, sadly, spectacularly wrong. That 2008 survey referenced ROK military cadets. A corresponding comparison, then, would be with the entering class of West Point plebes, not an imagined, generic sampling of “Americans.”

    On the other hand, given the cost that American taxpayers front for South Korea’s defense, and the neo-mercantilist protectionism and discriminatory trade policies that South Korea continues to practice against its most important ostensible ally, that imagined 34 percent figure could be forgiven…that is, if they had any idea of just how free-riding a country South Korea’s leaders have endeavored to maintain.


  • dlbarch

    Oh, and for those MHers who are interested in real data rather than gratuitous America-bashing, here’s some actual, you know, numbers as to which countries Americans regard as the country’s biggest threats:



  • wangkon936


    My comment that you refer to was tongue in cheek and not really all that serious.

  • Jang

    Since Japan got one vote S. Korea should have at least two.

  • ChuckRamone

     What does Japan have to do with it? South Korea has a very immediate threat to its north.

  • imememememe

    Stupid Americans.  Our greatest enemy is our happy-to-be-dumb selves.  

  • Cm

    DLB, read “Mercantalist Korea” importing foreign cars by the bunch.  Ten to fifteen percent of the local market made of foreign brands is historic proportions. More importantly the percentage seems to be climbing very quickly.  German makers like Audi and VW are having a heck of a run in Korea, followed by Japanese who are ironically using the US/Korea free trade to their advantage by shipping US made Japanese cars, to Korea.

  • Liz

    What the hell is that. Looks like a giant sperm doused in liquid mercury.

  • Hamilton

    They are not just getting the airframes, they are getting the ground stations, the training program, the spare parts for 3-5 years and updates for software.

    Many countries complain that the US won’t just sell them a weapon system, but they don’t complain when their systems still run in 3 years.

  • Adams-awry


  • mightymouse

    The thing is no country is in any position to really threaten the US seriously. What are the Iranians going to do? What is North Korea capable of doing against the US? 

  • mightymouse

    I agree. The greatest threat to the US is their utter ignorance. 

  • Anonymous_Joe

    The thing is no country is in any position to really threaten the US seriously.

    About a month ago, I got trapped in the Afghanistan of debating against America’s “inevitable decline.”  I made the same point.

    In foreign affairs, however, a country that has declined is still the greatest threat to America’s security:  Russia (former Soviet countries).  Select former Soviet countries have the nuclear long-strike capability to threaten the U.S., and the U.S. takes that very seriously.  Even after the Soviet Union’s demise and economic implosion in the early 90’s,  the U.S. still viewed the former Soviet countries as its biggest threat.  

    Today and for the immediate future, there are no other credible, beyond essentially terrorist, threats to the mainland U.S.  As his insightful analysis noted, the U.S. has the happenstance of ocean buffers to the east and west, a large, friendly neighbor in Canada to the north, and a large, third world country to the south.

  • mightymouse

    The problem is that Russian military is in not shape or form to even tangle with major powers. They may still be formidable but their military is far from being in good shape.

  • mightymouse

    Before calling Korea “Mercantalist” it was let’s see how they do with the FTA. I got a feeling that this if done properly will show the chaebols that Korea is no longer their little fiefdom with serious foreign competition.

  • ig5959292ee


  • Yu Bum Suk

     China could nuke the US into oblivion. Just recently Israel also developed the same ability, though hardly anyone noticed. Just why Israel wants the ability to nuke almost anyone is beyond me.

    Do any former Soviet republics besides Russia still have nuclear weapons?

  • Anonymous_Joe

    mightymouse:  “The problem is that Russian military is in not shape or form to even tangle with major powers. They may still be formidable but their military is far from being in good shape.

    Please read my original comment. The U.S. need not fear the Russians in conventional war.  The Russians have nuclear weapons + delivery system == threat.

    China could nuke the US into oblivion. Just recently Israel also developed the same ability, though hardly anyone noticed. Just why Israel wants the ability to nuke almost anyone is beyond me.

    China – delivery system =/= threat
    Israel – delivery system =/= threat

  • mightymouse

    Well are the nuclear forces in Russia well maintained?

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Don’t forget that North Korea wasted about as much to launch a surveillance satellite which has at most a two year lifespan if it was built with Iranian tech.

  • joey

      as well as give diplomatic cover for China and Russia to increase military exports.

  • wangkon936


    You show a lot of anguish over the fact that Koreans don’t buy American branded cars that are built in Detroit.  I would say that even if the current market was completely open, then Koreans still wouldn’t.  Go to a church parking lot of any sizable Korean immigrant community and what do you see?  With a totally open market you don’t see many American brand cars.  What you see are, on the luxury front, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.  On the common sedan side you see a lot of Honda Accords or Toyota Camrys.  You even see a lot of Hyundais nowadays too.

    When it comes to American cars, you are likely to see Koreans drive American branded SUVs or minivans.  You’re not likely to see sedans or compact cars.  Personally, I’ve rented American cars and Japanese cars.  I avoid American cars like the plague.  In my opinion, when it comes to the more common sedans and compact cars, American cars are just not put together as well as Japanese, German and sometimes even their Korean counterparts.  The interior layout is poor, the material quality is substandard, driving characteristics are inconsistent, etc.  The people in the rental place agreed with me and said that it was the Japanese and the German cars that went first and the American cars went last.  Dead last.

    Americans can make wonderful cars, however, the way that the industry is set-up today makes that very difficult.  However, with Michigan going right to work, that may start to change.  I was in a cab a few weeks ago.  A Ford Crown Victoria, a V12 monster of a car that my Palestinian driver said was wonderful and rock solid.  It had 250k miles on it and was still going strong.  However, he also said this Crown Victoria was not a stock Ford car.  It was a commercial car that costed twice as much as a stock Ford.  I think the key to making American cars competitive in the global market is operating and manufacturing efficiency.  Management will have to be more professional, including on the plant floor and the union power will have to be curtailed.  I’m sorry, but they are killing the industry.  Their culture of complacency and entitlement makes for poor dynamics on the plant floor.  The American worker can make wonderful and world beating cars, and be paid a decent living wage, but they just have German, Japanese and Korean nameplates on them and are manufactured in right to work states.

  • wangkon936

    Korean ability to reverse engineer sh*t is overblown.  The German tank engine German MTU 1500 hp Europowerpack has been around since 1979.  The Koreans have had at least 10 years to try and copy it for their K2 tank.  Still can’t do it.  The first batch of K2s need to import the German engine. 

    This is disappointing. After making reliable car and ship engines for decades, I thought they would get decent tank engines down by now.

  • Ubfig2002

    There are more things involved than buying the UAV. There are a couple ground stations or “shelters” that go with it, along with certain payload options and then there is training. RQ-4E ? What would they do with a customized, German-sold Global Hawk? Tritons? Maybe, but it would be  a while before they would take posession since their demonstrator vehicles are just starting flight testing and LRIP production has just started. The US NAVY won’t want to give up their scheduled arrivals for the first year or two.  Price will certainly double by that time since this is a good upgraded version (de-icing capability; naval-accommodating payloads, etc). If there was ever a concern for giving up secrets, you don’t want to sell them the EQ-4B’s.