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September 29, 2009—The US military will maintain U-2 surveillance aircraft on the Korean peninsula until there is no doubt that there are enough RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles in the Pacific region to take over the U-2’s missions, Army Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of US Forces Korea, said Tuesday.

“The Air Force has committed that to me,” Sharp told defense reporters in Washington, D.C.

He added, “They are not going to pull off U-2s until the Global Hawks are not only in place, but there is some overlap so we can make sure the systems and all are working.”

The Air Force currently operates some U-2s from Osan Air Base on the Korean peninsula.

Sharp said he discussed this very issue with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on Monday.

“His commitment was, “You’ll keep it [the U-2] until we are able to have that overlap,’” explained Sharp.

The first USAF Global Hawk destined for basing in the Pacific is expected to arrive at Andersen AFB, Guam, in mid 2010.

Schwartz gave airmen that same message—the U-2s will not be phased out until the proper time—during an August visit to Beale AFB, Calif., home to both U-2s and Global Hawks.

Sharp said the Global Hawk Block 30 variant, which will feature a robust signals intelligence collection suite in addition to its imagery sensors, is the version envisioned to support military operations on the peninsula.

Sharp also said the US is willing to offer South Korea its own Global Hawks. “They are considering it,” he said.