New US surveillance drone routes over Black Sea limit intelligence gathering, CNN reports

28 March, 11:55 PM
Russian plane dumps fuel on US MQ-9 Reaper drone (Photo:Courtesy of U.S. European Command/Handout via REUTERS)

Russian plane dumps fuel on US MQ-9 Reaper drone (Photo:Courtesy of U.S. European Command/Handout via REUTERS)

Following the recent incident involving a MQ-9 Reaper drone, the United States started diverting its reconnaissance UAV flights further down south over the Black Sea, limiting its ability to gather intelligence on the progress of the Russia-Ukraine war, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on March 28.

The source explained that flying further away from the theater of war reduces the quality of intelligence gathered by UAVs. Spy satellites can compensate, to a certain extent, but they can’t stay over targets for as long as reconnaissance drones can, making satellites less effective in that regard, the official added.

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After the incident with the Reaper drone, U.S. drones began flying at high altitudes over the Black Sea, away from the airspace around Russia-occupied Crimea. When CNN first reported on the change, another U.S. official said the new routes were needed to "to avoid being too provocative."

“I’m not going to, for operational security reasons, not going to get into the specifics of routes, missions, timelines, things like that,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing on March 21.

The European Command of the U.S. Armed Forces reported that on the morning of March 14, two Russian Su-27 aircraft recklessly intercepted an MQ-9 Reaper drone while it was carrying out routine operations in international airspace over the Black Sea. During the intercept, one of the Su-27s hit the drone’s propeller, forcing the operators to crash the drone into the sea.

Russian Defense Ministry claimed the drone crashed due to “sharp maneuvering,” after which it went into an uncontrolled dive and crashed into the sea. On March 16, Washington published footage of the incident from the drone’s rear camera, soundly disproving Moscow’s account.

The U.S. Air Force took steps to ensure that the MQ-9 Reaper did not fall into "the wrong hands" and minimized its potential intelligence value by remotely wiping sensitive information from its hardware.

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