A Northrop-built RQ-4 Global Hawk drone is set to fly over Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant to collect data and imagery, USAF deputy chief Lieutenant General Herbert Carlisle has said.

“The Global Hawk has great capability across the spectrum of military operations. Its tremendous contribution in this humanitarian assistance disaster relief operation is a testament to its value to the US and our allies,” he added.

The high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft will help assess damage to towns, industrial infrastructure and other facilities affected during the earthquake and subsequent flooding.

The aircraft is equipped with sensors and cameras that can take infrared, electro-optical images and detailed synthetic aperture radar-based pictures.

A powerful earthquake struck north-eastern Japan on 11 March, triggering a massive tsunami in Miyagi Prefecture.