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With no pilots to swap out, the Global Hawk can fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet for much longer-range missions than the U-2 — more than 32 hours at a time. That is important as China’s military growth is changing the balance of power across the region.

“U-2 is very well suited to U.S. needs on the Korean Peninsula, and the consequences of losing Global Hawk there will be minimal,” he said. “The loss is more serious across the broad expanses of the Western Pacific, where the tyranny of distance makes long range and endurance especially valuable.”