USAF RQ-4B scans westernmost Russia and Belarus for nearly a day

The Militarist Telegram channel reports the unusual activity of an American intelligence drone. The Telegram account shared a photo from the Flightradar24 mobile app, a commonly used app for monitoring air traffic by region.

USAF RQ-4B scans westernmost Russia and Belarus for nearly a day
Photo credit: USAF

On June 6, an RQ-4B Global Hawk took off from Greece and began a flight to Ukraine. The drone crossed the airspace of NATO partner countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia – and entered the airspace of Poland from its southern part. In this way, the drone avoided the airspace over Ukraine. Next is the crossing of Poland along the entire trajectory – from south to north.

“Very unusual – the US RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV is moving to a position near the border of Belarus, apparently for additional reconnaissance of targets of interest to the strike group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the border area,” Militarist wrote in his first post.

USAF RQ-4B scans westernmost Russia and Belarus for nearly a day
Photo credit: Telegram

Reaching northern Poland and overlooking the Baltic Sea, the RQ-4B began a series of identical flights. Flying in this part of Poland and based on the radar capabilities of the RQ-4B, the drone actually scanned the westernmost part of the Russian Federation – Kaliningrad Oblast, as well as the westernmost and central part of Belarus. One-way flights last almost a day. It is assumed that after completing the mission, the drone will return to Greece along the same route.

According to the trajectory, going to the westernmost part of Russia, the drone flies a shorter distance, unlike the Ukrainian trajectory describing zigzag movements, repeating the same and passing by the Polish-Belarusian border. Returning, however, the drone does not repeat these movements, but “pulls a straight line” apparently for a faster return to the base of origin [Greece]. 

The RQ-4B may have conducted this reconnaissance flight to better scan Russian forces in the Kaliningrad region, as well as the fleet stationed there. But another reason is also possible, and it directly concerns China. On June 6, a group of Chinese military personnel arrived in Belarus to participate in joint “anti-terrorist training,” the Belarusian Defense Ministry said. 

Phantom skies: A U.S. RQ-4B drone was lost over the Black Sea
Photo credit: Reddit

The news comes days after Belarus, Moscow’s key ally, joined the China-Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It focuses on Eurasian political, economic, security, and defense issues. 

The exercise aims to “exchange experience, coordinate Belarusian and Chinese units, and create a basis for the further development of Belarusian-Chinese relations in the field of joint training of troops,” according to the ministry. They will be held in Belarus on July 8-19.

Flying past the Polish-Belarusian border, the RQ-4B Global Hawk reconnaissance drone can scan deep into Belarus due to its advanced sensor suite. The RQ-4B is equipped with high-resolution synthetic aperture radar [SAR] and electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] sensors, which allow it to gather detailed imagery and intelligence over vast distances. 

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

The SAR capabilities of the RQ-4B enable it to penetrate through various weather conditions and even some forms of camouflage, providing clear images of the terrain and structures. This radar can cover a wide area, potentially scanning hundreds of kilometers into Belarusian territory from the border. 

The EO/IR sensors on the RQ-4B are designed to capture high-resolution images and thermal data, which can be used to identify and track the movements of military assets, infrastructure, and other points of interest. These sensors are effective both during the day and at night, enhancing the drone’s reconnaissance capabilities. 

Combining SAR and EO/IR sensors allows the RQ-4B to provide comprehensive intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR] data. This data can be used to monitor military activities, troop movements, and other strategic developments within Belarus, even from a significant distance across the border. 

Japan received an RQ-4B surveillance UAV with Raytheon's EISS
Photo credit: Brozo

Overall, the RQ-4B Global Hawk’s advanced sensor suite and high-altitude flight capabilities enable it to scan deeply into Belarusian territory, providing valuable intelligence to American and allied forces without the need to physically enter Belarusian airspace.

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