Russia challenges US drone reconnaissance of the Crimean peninsula

11:35 04.09.2023 •

US MQ-9 Reaper Drone.

Russia has started challenging US participation in the conflict in Ukraine, increasing the likelihood of an uncontrolled escalation. The US has been participating in the Ukrainian conflict since 2014. Much of the US participation is direct, but some participation is through proxy vassal states in NATO, including former great powers UK, France, and Germany, writes ‘Eurasian Times’ from Canada.

Without officially putting boots on the ground in Ukraine, the US is participating in practically all aspects of the conflict – training, weapons and ammunition supply, airborne air surveillance (using E-3 AWACS), airborne and space-based ISR, communication, command and control, live data link streaming to air defense (AD) systems during active operations.

British, French, and US service personnel are stationed at Ukrainian air and naval bases operating drones, programming weapons such as JDAM glide bombs, Storm Shadow, and Scalp missiles; operating AD systems such as Patriot and NASAMS and operating maritime and airborne drones.

The diversity of weapon systems inducted into the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and the short span of time in which they have been inducted makes it highly likely that most high-technology weapons systems operationally deployed within Ukrainian territory are manned by US/NATO personnel.

Besides warfighters deployed in Ukraine, thousands of offshore US service personnel stationed in the US and other NATO nations are actively participating in the conflict, analyzing large volumes of data streaming in from US (Topaz radar imaging and Crystal optical imaging) satellites and drones (RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper).

Following the failure of its counter-offensive launched on June 4 to make rapid headway, Ukraine has focused on maritime and airborne drone attacks on Crimea in a seemingly desperate effort to keep the morale of its forces and citizens high.

Typically, before such an attack, US airborne and space-based ISR assets mount intense surveillance of the Crimean peninsula to select targets and identify the AD systems deployed for their protection.

Ukrainian fixed-wing drones fly into Crimean airspace to force the Russian AD systems to “light up.” US RC-135 Elint aircraft and RQ-4 and MQ-9 drones record and analyze radar signals.

Through intense surveillance, the US is able to detect gaps in Russian defenses caused by technical breakdowns or redeployment. Ukraine then exploits the gaps.  

The very obvious and repeated participation of US drones in the preparation and execution of Ukrainian attacks has likely forced Russia to challenge its operation in close proximity to Crimea.

According to the RuMoD, “On August 22, 2023, two unmanned aerial vehicles, MQ-9 Reaper and TB2 Bayraktar, conducting aerial reconnaissance over the waters of the Black Sea close to the Crimean Peninsula, were detected by the airspace control means of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The Russian statement clearly states that the interception was intended to “counter UAVs conducting radio-technical reconnaissance.”

On August 27, the RuMod reported that “a Russian Su-30 fighter jet prevented a USAF MQ-9A Reaper reconnaissance UAV from violating Russia’s state border over the Black Sea.”

On August 28, the RuMoD reported, “Over the south-western part of the Black Sea, the airspace monitoring systems of the Russian Aerospace Forces detected a flight in the direction of the State border of the Russian Federation by unmanned aerial vehicles of the USAF MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk carrying out aerial reconnaissance in the area of the Crimean peninsula.

“In order to prevent a possible violation of the State border of the Russian Federation and to counter the conduct of radio-technical reconnaissance by UAVs, two Russian fighter jets from the on-duty air defense forces were scrambled.

“As a result of the actions of the on-duty air defense forces, reconnaissance UAVs of the United States Air Force changed their flight direction and left the areas where air reconnaissance was being conducted.”

From the statements of the Russian MoD, it’s clear that Russia will challenge US drone reconnaissance of the Crimean peninsula from this point onwards.

It remains to see how well this goes down with the US leadership.


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