North Korea's imitation of US 'Hawk' and 'Reaper' UAVs officially showcased

North Korea has released images and footage of what appear to be exact replicas of U.S. RQ-4 "Hawk" and MQ-9 "Reaper." Capabilities are unknown.
Christopher McFadden
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu inspecting the new drones.

NK News/X 

First spotted in satellite imagery in June, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has officially showcased its latest high-tech, cookie-cutter-looking US drones, The Drive reports. Externally nye-on indistinguishable from existing US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 "Hawk" and MQ-9 "Reaper" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it is currently unclear how capable these new North Korean examples are. Along with footage from North Korea's Weapons and Equipment Exhibition 2023 in Pyongyang, state media has also released footage of the drones in flight.

Cooker-cutter drones

While no official North Korean designation is yet known, the drones are being informally called “Global Hawk-type” and “Reaper-type" by military analysts. Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu attended an exhibition where the two drones were officially unveiled. Shoigu was in Pyongyang to strengthen military cooperation between their two countries and acquire more North Korean-made weapons for use in Russia's conflict in Ukraine.

The bigger of the two drones, aka the "Hawk-type," bears a very close resemblance in size and appearance to the US Air Force's RQ-4A jet-powered drone and similar models utilized by the US Navy, NATO and other nations such as South Korea. The North Korean design also accurately replicates essential aspects of the American-made drone, such as the V-tail and the air intake positioned above the fuselage. Analysis of satellite footage of the drone also indicates that it appears to have a wingspan of around 115 feet (35 meters), almost identical to the 116.2 feet (35.4 m) wingspan of the RQ-4A. 

Very little information about the "Global Hawk-type" drone's specifications and mission is available. However, based on its resemblance to the RQ-4 series, it is likely designed for high-altitude flights and can cover longer distances depending on its engine performance and other factors.

As for the smaller "Global Reaper-type" drone, recent satellite images revealed that it likely has a wingspan of about 65 feet (19.8 m), which is only slightly smaller than the wingspan of the actual MQ-9 drone at 66 feet (20.1 m).

The North Korean "Global Reaper-type" was also showcased carrying two missiles on six pylons under its wings. One of these weapons resembles the well-known American-made AGM-114 "Hellfire" missile, which is commonly used by the MQ-9 and other aircraft. In a short video clip, the drone can even launch a pair of missiles resembling the Hellfire, but it is uncertain if the footage is authentic.

Reverse engineering or espionage?

It is unclear how North Korea has managed to "clone" the American UAV designs. Still, a mixture of espionage and collaboration with China, Russia, and Iran has been suggested. Both Russia and Iran, for example, have recovered wrecks of US drones in the past.

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