‘Reports’ come: ‘RQ-4B shot down over the Black Sea by a MiG-31’

Numerous online sources suggest that a US Air Force RQ-4B reconnaissance drone was downed over the Black Sea. This topic is lighting up X and Telegram, where users are buzzing with comments, although solid evidence remains scarce. Leading the charge in these claims is X user, US Civil Defense News.

The US Civil Defense News profile description reads: “Retired Military Officer, former Political Advisor to NATO 3 Star General! Former Congressional Staffer, Wounded Warrior & Iraq War Veteran! Stay Informed!” What US Civil Defense News writes in X is: “Update: Report that a Russian MiG-31 fighter jet shot down the US RQ-4B Global Hawk over the Black Sea near Crimea where the US surveillance drone was providing targeting information to NATO missiles in Ukraine!!”

Just hours before this article, the same X account released updates about Crimea, Russia, Ukraine, and NATO. The report stated that Moscow had decided to establish its own “no-fly zone” over the Black Sea. This move is in response to allied air reconnaissance efforts, which have been supplying Ukraine with information on Russian targets. 

“Update: Russia is planning to declare its own ‘no-fly zone!’ Over the Black Sea! Will shoot down any NATO surveillance drone flying near Crimea giving targeting information to Ukraine!! War is about to heat up quickly!!” in this regard US Civil Defense News. Later, the two posts were merged into one that read: “We reported it first! Before it happened!! Now Russia just shot down a US Drone over the Black Sea!!,” referring to “Moscow’s decision to make the for flight zone” over the Black Sea.

On Telegram, a debate has emerged regarding a “downed” RQ-4B drone, fueled by both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts. When we sift through the usual chatter, we see claims suggesting an RQ-4B drone has ceased transmission, which has led to speculation that the drone was shot down. 

However, as of the writing of this article, there has been no official confirmation from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Europe, or the United States concerning the downing of a reconnaissance drone within the last 24 hours, whether it be an RQ-4B or an RQ-9. Even Russian outlets like Avia.pro report that the incident remains unverified, with no evidence to substantiate the claims. 

Furthermore, in its daily update on the situation in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense has not mentioned anything about an RQ-4B/RQ-9 drone, related incidents over the Black Sea, or the involvement of a MiG-31 in a mission over the Black Sea. Given that both Russia and Ukraine tend to publicly celebrate the downing of enemy equipment, the absence of such a report, especially from Russia, points to either guesswork, unconfirmed information, or a complete lack of information.

While BulgarianMilitary.com isn’t sure where the “sources” are getting their information, it’s important to note that a temporarily disabled radar transponder on a reconnaissance drone doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been downed or damaged. Drone operators frequently use this tactic as part of their strategic maneuvers. 

Take, for instance, a recent Ukrainian strike on Crimea, which Russia has attributed to the U.S. due to the presence of a reconnaissance drone over the Black Sea. During this mission, some experts observed that the drone’s radar transponder was purposefully turned off by the operator at a certain point. 

MiG-31BMs get R-74M missile hitting targets in the rear hemisphere
Photo credit: MWM

One primary reason operators turn off the radar transponder of the RQ-4B reconnaissance drone during a military mission is to enhance stealth. The transponder emits signals that can be detected by enemy radar systems, potentially revealing the drone’s location and compromising the mission. By deactivating it, the drone becomes harder to track and identify, increasing its chances of successfully gathering intelligence without being intercepted.

Another reason for turning off the radar transponder is to avoid electronic warfare tactics. Adversaries could use the transponder signals to jam or spoof the drone’s navigation systems, leading it off course or rendering it ineffective. Disabling the transponder minimizes this risk, ensuring the drone can complete its mission without interference. 

Additionally, turning off the radar transponder helps in maintaining operational security. Military missions often require a high level of secrecy, and any emitted signals could be intercepted by enemy forces, providing them with valuable information about the mission’s objectives and timing. By keeping the transponder off, operators reduce the chances of sensitive information being leaked. 

Su-27 blocked USAF RQ-4B Global Hawk approaching the Russian border
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

Lastly, the transponder is typically used for air traffic control and collision avoidance in civilian airspace. During a military mission, especially in contested or hostile environments, these considerations are secondary to the mission’s success and the drone’s safety. Therefore, operators prioritize stealth and security over standard aviation protocols. 

BulgarianMilitary.com cannot confirm the other claim of the US Civil Defense News X account that Moscow is establishing a “no-fly zone” over the Black Sea. There is no official announcement of such an action by the Russian Federation. The latest reports from the area’s mobile air traffic tracking apps show that planes are still circling over the Black Sea and that no planes are flying around Crimea. This has been a daily occurrence since the beginning of the war until today.

There is a chance that these news stories might just be good examples of fake news. High-following accounts are sharing claims without evidence, and no official sources have backed them up.

UPDATES:

American officials have dismissed claims circulated by Russian websites—often linked to the Russian Defense Ministry—that an “incident” occurred in the Black Sea yesterday. Specifically, the allegations suggesting a U.S. high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) reconnaissance drone, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk or its Navy variant, the MQ-4C Triton, was “chased” and shot down by Russian fighter jets, potentially MiG-31s, have been denied.

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