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US Spy Plane RC-135W Flies Over ‘Conflict-Ridden Donbass’ A Day After Su-27 Fighters Turned Away NATO Aircraft — Reports

An American surveillance aircraft RC-135W was reportedly flying over Donbass, Ukraine in what seems to be enhanced caution, as well as strategic reticence on the US military’s part amid tensions with Russia.

This development was reported a day after Russian fighter jets turned away NATO spy planes from the country’s border.

The US Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint Electronic Reconnaissance Aircraft flew over Donbas / Donbass on December 11, the Ukrainian newspaper Strana reported. The Donbas region lies in the southeastern territory of Ukraine that borders Russia.

“The United States Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic reconnaissance aircraft is flying over the territory of Donbas right now. According to the aircraft’s specifics, it can be assumed that it can conduct reconnaissance in the area of the contact line,” adding a photo of the flight map of the Flightradar24 resource.


However, the information remains unverified as there are no official reports from the law enforcement agencies yet.

The previous day, Russian Su-27 fighter jets had escorted a group of French and US spy planes, including the Mirage 2000 and Rafale fighters as well as CL-600 Artemis and RC-135 spy plane over the Black Sea, as reported by TASS.

“The planes were stopped from violating the Russian border,” a Defense Ministry statement said. “After turning the foreign warplanes away from Russia’s border, the Russian fighter jets safely returned to their home airfield.”

Earlier, Strana said, only high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles RQ-4A Global Hawk had flown over the Donbas region. Ever since tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated leading to the mobilization of troops on both sides, NATO aircraft led by the US Air Force have made several forays into the region, an act that Russia sees as unprovoked escalation.

No Let-Up In Tensions 

Meetings between Russian and US presidents have done little to relieve tensions over Ukraine. Following a video conference with US President Joe Biden earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any plans to invade Ukraine. Instead, he accused NATO of ignoring Moscow’s “red lines” in its eastward advance and demanded that it abandon its plans to annex Ukraine.

On the other hand, President Biden has ruled out making such any commitment but has stated that if tensions rise, he will not send troops to the country. However, in the event that Russia invaded its neighbor, he threatened it with new sanctions.

The tensions between Russia and the West have been a result of Ukraine’s eagerness and the possibility of joining NATO, a move that Russia considers detrimental to its security and its existence. Earlier, Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 had led to several sanctions and the beginning of a new era of tensions with the West.

“The US does not have ‘much actual interest’ in Ukraine joining NATO, but once President Putin explicitly mentioned it, it became a credibility issue”, Michael Desch, Director of Notre Dame International Security Centre told Sputnik.

As a result, the talks between the two arch-foes could be best termed as inconclusive and inconsequential. Even though both sides have some areas of convergence that each acknowledges, Ukraine continues to be a strategic thorn. No formal end to these tensions has emboldened the USAF to send more of its planes closer to Russia, despite being told off earlier.

RC-135W Spy Plane 

The Boeing RC-135 is a four-engine medium-weight reconnaissance aircraft designed and constructed for the US Air Force by Boeing Defense and Integrated Systems (USAF).

It is also being provided to the British Royal Air Force for which US-UK are collaborating. It is derived from its predecessor, the C-135 Stratolifter, and can execute intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.

The RC-135W aircraft, also known as the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, features a sensor suite for monitoring and recognizing geo-locate signals within the electromagnetic spectrum.

Boeing RC-135 - Wikipedia
Boeing RC-135W (via Wikipedia)

The aircraft’s top speed is 870 kilometers per hour. The RC-135W has a range of 6,500 kilometers and a service ceiling of 39,000 feet.

RC-135W is a dedicated electronic surveillance aircraft that can perform strategic and tactical operations in all theaters. Electronic emissions from communications, radar, and other devices are ‘soaked up’ by its sensors.

It uses multidiscipline Weapons System Officer (WSO) and Weapons System Operator (WSOp) specialists whose purpose is to survey electromagnetic spectrum elements in order to gather intelligence for commanders.

The operational prowess and capability of this aircraft give an idea about the purpose behind its deployment in a region where tensions are currently running high. Russia’s 2014 annexation occupies the popular imagination and could be the reason behind spy planes making repeated flights in Russia’s backyard as a tool to deter it as well as monitor its movement.

Several spy planes of NATO have been sent to the East European region and as long as an understanding is not reached between the two sides, such incidents are expected to continue.

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