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Published in Stream:
Day 1019: December 2, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A USAF Global Hawk Reconnaissance Drone Patrolled The Donbass Today
2 years
Ukraine Suffers Military Casualties From Both Enemy Fire And Betrayal

A US Air Force RQ-4A Global Hawk reconnaissance drone was spotted today flying over the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

This is not the first time that a USAF drone has been recorded flying over Ukraine. Several flight have been reported, most recently, in October this year, a Global Hawk was recorded flying, with its transponder turned on, over Ukraine's Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, near the frontier with Russian-occupied Crimea.

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U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone flew over Ukraine with transponder turned on for everyone to see

Reports of U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) flying over Ukraine are nothing new. Back in April 2015, quoting Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, Chief of the Main Department for Operations at the Russian General Staff, ITAR TASS reported that American high-altitude long-range drone were regularly spotted over the Black Sea and, beginning in March 2015, they were also monitored flying over Ukraine.

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Dec 02, 2016 16:27 (GMT)

However today's flight is the first time we have seen a USAF drone flying near the front line in the Donbass.

The UAV was first spotted by Strategic Sentinel, a US private intelligence firm, using an ADS-B transponder monitoring web service: 

The callsign used by the flight - UAVGH000 - is the same that appeared nearer Crimea in October.

Several flights have been recorded, over Malta and Romania, for this callsign over recent days by, a website tracking military aircraft transponder signals.

The Interpreter was able to independently verify that the transponder appeared over the Donbass by using and ADS-B Exchange - websites relaying real-time ADS-B data.

While the transponder signal from UAVGH000 was intermittent, we took the following screenshots today:

At 14:04 GMT:

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The latter two screenshots indicate that the USAF drone spent a considerable length of time flying back and forth between a location just south of Velikaya Novoselka and another to the north of Severodonetsk.

This path maintained a distance of between 60 and 75 kilometres from the front line at all times at an altitude of over 50,000 feet.

While the exact range of the sensors aboard the RQ-4A are classified and depend on the sensor package included, the drone would almost certainly have been able to gather extensive radar and optical data on Russian positions near the front line.

The Russian General Staff claimed in April last year that the use of Global Hawk drones over the Black Sea "increased the depth of data gathering on the territory of Russia by 250 kilometers to 300 kilometers."

Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace at the Institute of Strategic Studies, told The Interpreter that he had no doubt that today's flight would have been able to gather data of value.

In reporting on the flight north of Crimea in October this year, David Cenciotti of The Aviationist suggested that the choice to fly with a transponder turned on, thereby making the surveillance drone visible to the public, had been made to send a message:

We can’t completely rule out this happened by accident but considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well known it seems quite reasonable, in a period of raising tensions with Russia, to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcast its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it was there.

Russian spyplanes have done the some in the past: for instance the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on.

-- Pierre Vaux