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by John Helmer, Moscow 

Since the lethal Sevastopol beach attack on June 23 triggered open criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s military inhibitions,  there has been a Russian counter to the operation of US Air Force (USAF) drones which direct the missile strikes from international airspace over the Black Sea.  

The June 23 missile salvo used US-made and US-crewed ATACMS missiles.

The US Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin, then spoke by telephone on June 25 with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov – their first conversation since Belousov replaced Sergei Shoigu in May. In the Pentagon briefing, nothing was admitted except that it had been the Pentagon which initiated the call, not the Russian side.  

What happened next was that the Defense Ministry announced Belousov had noted “the increased intensity of flights of strategic unmanned aerial vehicles of the United States over the Black Sea” and “instructed the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to take measures of prompt response to provocations”. The Russian Air Force began to attack the US Air Force Global Hawk ((Northrop Grumman RQ-4B) drones in a new way (lead image, right).

Their operation was transferred from Sigonella in Italy to the Kogălniceanu Air Base near Constanta in Romania. The electronic warfare operation to guide Ukrainian missile attacks on Crimea was transferred from drones to manned aircraft, and from the US Air Force (USAF) to the Royal Air Force (RAF). British-made Storm Shadow missiles, fired by Ukrainian aircraft, then replaced the ATACMS, and new attacks begun on Sevastopol.

The Russian reaction has been to destroy the Ukrainian airfields from which these launches began and the aircraft which fired them.  On July 2, the Russian Defense Ministry reported, “as a result of a group strike with precision weapons on an airfield, five Su-27 aircraft of the enemy air force were destroyed and two were damaged. Two more Ukrainian aircraft, MiG-29 and Su-27,  were shot down by Russian air defence.”  The airfield targeted was Mirgorod, near Poltava in the northeast. 

Air evacuation of US ground casualties from the Nikolaev area of the ATACMS launches has been reported by Russian military bloggers through the Polish border hub of Rzeszów.

This is how the war between the US, UK and Russia is being fought.  The two leading military bloggers, Boris Rozhin of Colonel Cassad and Mikhail Zvinchuk of Rybar, remain skeptical. “There is every awareness [of the Black Sea drone problem] in the decision-making centers. But after all the crossings of the red lines and despite the threatening statements to shoot down the American RQ-4, no one has done so.”  

Late on June 27, the Russian military blog Militarist reported on the Royal Air Force (RAF) operation over the Black Sea of the Rivet Joint electronic warfare aircraft, escorted by Typhoon fighters.    Yevgeny Krutikov’s Mudraya Ptitsa Telegram channel then reported that this RAF operation, usually based in Waddington, England, had been moved to Kogălniceanu Air Base base, near Constanta, Romania.   NATO and RAF press releases call this  Romanian operation “enhanced air policing”.    In earlier operations the Rivet Joint aircraft remained inside the Romanian flight information region and were without fighter escorts;  as the range has been extended closer to Crimea, the Typhoons have been added.

During Monday July 1, there were two new missile attacks on the Sevastopol area. Although the incoming missiles were intercepted and destroyed in the air, Boris Rozhin, director of the Colonel Cassad military blog, claimed “at the moment the fight between the shooting of the air defence and the incoming [missiles] is unsatisfactory.”

According to Rozhin’s reports, there were two waves of Ukrainian missiles on Monday, the first just after 2 in the afternoon, and a second just before 7 in the evening. The daily briefing by the Defense Ministry in Moscow had already announced that eight British-made and directed Storm Shadow missiles had been shot down.

The Italian military monitoring website Itamilradar has gone silent on tracking both US and other NATO drones and electronic warfare aircraft over the Black Sea since this report of June 25; that categorically denied speculation that Russian fighter aircraft had shot down a USAF  Global Hawk over the night and early morning of June 23-24.    

The Global Hawk track June 23-24.  See an earlier Black Sea tracking report on June 14.  

In this report by Tsargrad on July 1, the military writer Vladislav Schlepchenko reports that the Russian Air Force has devised a tactic of intercepting the US drones with bursts of air turbulence so intense as to force their operators to retreat. The first test of the tactic was on June 24.

This is a variation of the fuel-dumping tactic by two Su-27s which forced the drone, an MQ-9 Reaper, into the Black Sea on March 14, 2023. On its second pass, one of the Russian aircraft reportedly struck the drone.  

Source: https://www.pbs.org/

That Russian success triggered a telephone call to Moscow by General Austin. The Russian Defense Ministry responded at the time that the action was in response to “the intensification of intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation,” and that Russia “will respond in kind to all provocations.”  

That language was repeated word for word last week. According to this Tsargrad report the interception tactic has changed. So has the Pentagon’s reaction, and the shift for the time being to British target guidance for Storm Shadow missile attacks. Tsargrad is a Moscow-based internet and video channel directed by Konstantin Malofeyev.  A monarchist and Orthodox believer, Malofeyev has been sanctioned, then indicted by the US as “one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea.”  He is critical of the military restraint of the Kremlin without naming Putin.

Source: https://tsargrad.tv/

The American got airsick over the Black Sea. The Russians have brought out “marine predators”

The deployment of NATO reconnaissance aircraft has intensified near Crimea. [Russian] Fighter bombers have hinted at the response. The military observer explains why the American drone got airsick and why Russia has brought out “marine predators” [морских хищников].

NATO reconnaissance aircraft have begun to concentrate in the area of Crimea. Spy drones have been replaced by reconnaissance aircraft. The situation was commented on by the military correspondent of Tsargrad, Vladislav Shlepchenko.

They are afraid to fly one at a time

On the afternoon of July 1, it became known that the US Boeing P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft is circling in the sky over Romania in the company of the Boeing KC-135R flying tanker, which refuels the aircraft. It was noted that as soon as the process is completed, the machine will begin to perform the task of electronic reconnaissance of the territory of the Russian peninsula.

Tsargrad: photo: screenshot of the Flightradar24 Telegram channel.

However, apparently, this did not seem enough to the NATO command. Therefore, a British RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft was transferred to Sevastopol from Waddington Air Base. There are suspicions that after the “incidents” with drones, the NATO air spies are afraid to fly near the Russian border one at a time.

Tsargrad: photo: screenshot of the Military Chronicle Telegram channel.

Meanwhile, a Russian fighter-bomber pilot has again posted a mysterious message on his Telegram channel. The pilot hints that [Russian Air Force] fighters have taken the necessary measures against American UAVs.

“There is unrest in the sky of the Black Sea today. The bourgeois stopped turning on the transponder, which did not help them to go unnoticed in any way. We are waiting for details. The fighters have worked out the control target. Who it was, what and how, we’ll find out a little later. But this is not accurate”, wrote the author of the Telegram channel Fighterbomber.

The Tsargrad military observer Vlad Shlepchenko believes that this information should be considered in the context of an incident on the 24th. If we rely on information from Fighterbomber, then on that day a Russian MiG-31 made two passes at the American Global Hawk reconnaissance drone,  including a pass at a speed of Mach 2 or 3, after which the American drone got airsick.

According to the monitoring services of Flightradar 24,  American drones did not appear over the Black Sea after the 24th.

But now this activity with airplanes — what does it mean? The fact is that the Americans – I hate this expression – were scared, but in this case it is correct, Shlepchenko points out. That is, the Americans realized that it was no longer necessary to send drones – if they did, “unpleasant turbulence” would happen to them. That’s why they are now sending manned planes instead of drones. Moreover, it’s not even the Americans who are sending them, but the British.

“At the end of last week, on Friday, there was a flight of a long-range electronic surveillance aircraft, a British escort of two Eurofighter Typhoon fighters. There are a lot of planes flying right now. If this is an RC-135V Rivet Joint, this is an aircraft that is designed for radar detection and tracking of our territory,” Shlepchenko notes.

The military correspondent draws attention to the fact that this time a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft was also sent to the shores of Crimea. It is needed in order to track the activity of “marine predators” – submarines.  “This active patrolling over the Black Sea may indicate that our submarines have become more active and they are doing something. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense to drive the Poseidon back and forth,” Shlepchenko explained. He believes that all this activity shows that measures have indeed been taken to neutralize the American drones. And these measures have proved to be quite effective, which is why Americans now do not really know what to do about it. “That’s to say, the response has been selected in exactly the way it should be,” Shlepchenko emphasizes.

The military observer recalled that, on the one hand, Russia is not interested in dragging the armed struggle into international airspace and international maritime space. Because the country is very dependent on the ability to export oil and buy electronics for the military-industrial complex. “We do not need to expand the fight to international waters at all, because then it will be a big problem with trade,” Shlepchenko explained.

“On the other hand,” he points out, “it is also no longer possible to tolerate the complicity of Americans in terrorist attacks along our coast. Therefore, the option was found which satisfies the specified requirements. And, apparently, this option turned out to be, on the one hand, quite deniable, and on the other hand, neutral enough that the Americans now cannot use it to escalate the situation with some of their actions or statements.”

What are the consequences?

The expert recalls that the Global Hawk reconnaissance drone can patrol for more than 30 hours. Accordingly, “it can loiter in the middle of the Black Sea, so it can observe activity in the region for more than a day.  It sees ballistic missile launches, it sees anti-aircraft missile launches, it detects the activity of electronic warfare stations, radars, takeoffs and landings of aircraft. For the drone, in fact the entire Crimea, Krasnodar Krai, and all the way to the north, about 250 kilometers away, all of this is visible,” Shlepchenko explained.

“And all this information is poured into the NATO headquarters in real time by the drone, and they immediately pour it over the Ukrainian military forces. And they have the ability to flexibly and instantly respond to air defence activity. For example, if the Ukrainian military sees that some Russian air defence system has fired its anti-aircraft missiles, they can immediately strike at it. Similarly, the Ukrainians can carry out a massive strike on the Russian electronic warfare complex, if they have detected it. But right now these eyes, which provide such a constant advantage in situational awareness, are not there,” Shlepchenko points out.

Now, according to Flightradar24, the reconnaissance aircraft operate either from the territory of Romania, or make small sorties into the Black Sea, into neutral waters. But again, they are trying to hug close to Turkish territorial waters. And their flights are limited, firstly by the fuel supply in the aircraft itself whose range and time in the air are less than that of the Global Hawk; and secondly, they are also trying to cover them with fighters. As a result, the time in action is reduced.

That is, they cannot now conduct constant reconnaissance, but only in small episodes. Accordingly, there are windows of opportunity when our systems can relocate, hide, jump from one shelter to another, and so on.

What to do with airplanes

In following up, this fresh question arises. How can we counteract enemy reconnaissance aircraft in the Black Sea now? “If we have pushed out their drones, now we need to think about how to squeeze out the manned aircraft without bringing the matter to a direct clash”, Shlepchenko believes. In his view, NATO has deployed planes with live crews precisely because they understand that Russia does not intend to shoot them down.

One possible solution to this problem may be the announcement of military exercises in the international waters of the Black Sea with missile firing and testing of electronic warfare systems. And then these warning notices can simply be repeated and updated over and over again. So that “if someone got into international waters where we are conducting exercises, it’s their own fault. If someone was flying and trying to spy out something, and ran into, say, the beam of our electronic warfare complex, the radiation of our electronic warfare, it’s also his own fault,” Shlepchenko explains the logic.

“If the enemy will bend, we need to put the squeeze on,” the military observer believes. So just as it was  possible to push out the NATO drones, then we must now get to work on the manned aircraft. But again, this should be done without bringing the matter to a direct conflict, to situations which can be used by the West to start taking direct aggressive actions,” Shlepchenko concluded.

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