A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon of Patrol Squadron 46 drew a “46” over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, clearly visible on flight tracking websites.
On Apr. 3, 2021, a P-8A Poseidon aircraft with the Patrol Squadron 46 (VP-46) Grey Knights launched from NAS (Naval Air Station) Sigonella, Italy, carried out a sortie over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, off Syria; a pretty standard mission if it wasn’t for the fact that, on its way to the patrol area off Syria, as it flew at low altitude over the sea to the southeast of Cyprus, the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft drew a giant “46”.
The number is a clear reference to the unit, that has been deployed to “Saigon” (as NAS Sigonella is often referred to) on their inaugural P-8A Poseidon deployment to U.S. Sixth Fleet at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, from their homebase at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, since the end of November 2020.
As often explained here at The Aviationist, U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidons operating out of Sigonella can be regularly tracked online by means of their ADS-B/Mode-S transponders orbiting off Syria (where a tense close encounter with two Su-35s took place), flying over the Black Sea near Crimea or hunting Russian Navy subs and warships in the western Mediterranean Sea around Gibraltair. They have also been spotted off Libya recently. OSINT analysis on their routes always provides interesting insights into their missions.
However, this was the first time a P-8 “sent a message” to those watching the mission using a browser or a flight tracking app. The aircrew was certainly aware of being tracked and did it on purpose: they were broadcasting ADS-B as soon as they entered the eastern Med, meaning that they definitely wanted to be seen.
As for the reason for drawing a “46” in the skies, someone speculates it was done to celebrate the end of the deployment.
Whatever, it’s a significant improvement since when another U.S. Navy aircrew drew a giant penis contrailing across the clear blue skies of Washington state in their EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130) “The Zappers”, out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in 2017.
Dealing with the P-8A, these aircraft regularly fly ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions across the Med. As explained in a previous post: “These assets are much more than MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft): they are multi-mission platforms that can gather valuable intelligence using a wide array of sensors. Among these, an Advanced Airborne Sensor (a dual-sided AESA radar that can offer 360-degree scanning on targets on land or coastal areas, and which has potential applications as a jamming or even cyberwarfare platform according to Northrop Grumman); an APY-10 multi-mode synthetic aperture radar; an MX-20 electro-optical/infrared turret for shorter-range search; and an ALQ-240 Electronic Support Measure (ESM) suite, able to geo-locate and track enemy radar emitters. Moreover, all sensors contribute to a single fused tactical situation display, which is then shared over both military standard and internet protocol data links, allowing for seamless delivery of information amongst U.S. and coalition forces.”
The VP-46 is a forward deployed squadron with a detachment in Djibouti, Africa, conducting operations in the African maritime theater too. The squadron is assigned to Commander, Task Force 67, responsible for tactical control of deployed maritime patrol and reconnaissance squadrons throughout Europe and Africa.