Tag Archives: ADS-B

Here Is The Route A U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Is Currently Flying During A Surveillance Mission Over The Black Sea And Ukraine

A gigantic U.S. Air Force RQ-4 is currently flying over Ukraine, broadcasting its position for everyone to see.

U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

Beginning in 2015, they have started flying over Ukraine as well and, as already reported, instead of keeping a low-profile, they can be regularly tracked not only by “standard” ground radars, but even by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange while its imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors take a look at Russian bases in Crimea and gather information about the pro-Russia forces on the ground in the Dombass region of Ukraine.

As we write this story, 19:00 GMT on Jul. 20, a Global Hawk drone can be tracked as it performs an ISR mission over Ukraine at 53,000 feet.

The unmanned aircraft has been airborne for some 17 hours. It started tracking early in the morning after departing from Sigonella, then it has headed east, flown over Bulgaria to the Black Sea, “skirted” Crimea, performed some racetracks off Sochi and then headed back to make a tour of Ukraine.

Here are some screenshots taken by our friend and famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast running the popular @CivMilAir @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds:

 

As reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether the drone can be tracked online by accident or not. But considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcasts its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it is over there. Since “standard” air defense radars would be able to see them regardless to whether they have the transponder on or off, increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Russian spyplanes can be regularly tracked as well: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on.

Top image: Flightradar24 screenshot via @CivMilAir who deserves the usual H/T.

 

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Gigantic U.S. Global Hawk drone could be tracked online while flying 21-hour mission over Libya

We can’t say whether it happened by accident or on purpose, but a U.S. unmanned spy aircraft broadcast its position for everyone to see while flying a long mission over northern Libya.

It’s not a secret that U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella, Italy, from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

The Global Hawks of the flying branch had their baptism of fire on Mar. 1, 2011, and were the first to fly over Libya to perform high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties on targets located in regions with  a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat after Operation Odyssey Dawn was launched on Mar. 19, 2011.

From their deployment bases in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and from Al Dhafra, UAE, the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) drones are regularly tasked with intelligence gathering missions over North Africa, East Europe and Middle East: in March 2015, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged the involvement of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft in the air war on ISIS not only as an IMINT (Imagery Intelligence) platform but also as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platform, that replaces the imagery sensor package normally installed in the aircraft, to support ground ops by relaying communications between people and aircraft as well as enabling airstrikes on the Islamic State militants.

Like all the other spyplanes, during their (long) sorties, these strategic ISR drones typically tend to keep a low-profile: they operate in “due regard” with transponder off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following. For this reason it should not be possible to detect RQ-4s on clandestine missions using “simple” commercial receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.

But Global Hawks could be tracked online over Ukraine beginning on October 2016 and, for the very fist time, while conducting a 21-hour mission over northwestern Libya on Feb. 4, 2017.

Indeed, yesterday an RQ-4 could be tracked on FR24.com taking off from Sigonella airbase around 1.30AM UTC, climb to 46,000 feet over the sea then head towards Libya where it circled for several hours.

Tracking while heading southbound (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Flying over northwestern Libya (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Skirting Tripoli southeast bound (screenshot from FR 24.com)

RTB to Sigonella (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Eventually the UAS returned to Sigonella in the late evening landing after 22.30 UTC, some 21 hours after take off.

By the way, on the very same day there was another U.S. RQ-4 drone tracking again over Ukraine….

The reason why the strategic drone was visible on the Internet for everyone to see (including the bad guys) remains a mystery. Just another case of inaccurate use of ADS-B transponder?

We have documented OPSEC failures exposed by online flight tracking, reporting about special operations planes clearly tracking over or near “danger zones” for nearly a decade.

We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed even though this author has received several emails from USAF pilots and aircrew members who wanted to say thank you for raising the issue.

Sometimes the reason for making an aircraft visible on FR24 can be deterrence: they purposely broadcast their position to let “the others” know a spyplane hunting terrorists is there. Was this the case? Hard to say.

H/T to the always alert @CivMilAir for the heads-up!

 

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You can track U.S. Navy private contractor dogfights online

Flightradar24 lets you track ATAC’s fleet of private contractor aggressors that fly out of NAS Point Mugu and NAS Fallon.

Whilst most of the interesting aircraft (namely fighters and attack planes as Special Ops platforms are still there) are hidden on Flightradar24.com, the popular online tracking system still provides the opportunity to follow ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company) aggressors flying tactical flight training missions for U.S. Navy, Air Force and Air National Guard assets.

Indeed, as pointed out by Bob Cheatham, one of our avid followers from California, most of ATAC’s jets can be tracked as they practice dogfights almost daily off San Diego, inside the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division-managed Point Mugu Sea Range that features 36,000 square miles of controlled sea and airspace, and allows for testing in a real-world environment.

ATAC’s Hawker Hunter flying a mission off San Diego. (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham)

“Growing up in the 70s & 80s, I was a huge fan of Pt. Mugu’s VX-4 Evaluators (F-4 & F-14s), so now I find it interesting to see most of these maneuvers passed on to a civilian contractor that actually shows up in the clear on ADS-B!” Cheatham explained in an email to The Aviationist.

N328AX is an ATAC’s Hawker Hunter F.58 formerly belonging to the Swiss Air Force (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham).

“Using the N-registration alerts on FR24, I track practice dogfights almost daily off San Diego between ATAC‘s Hunters & Kfirs (and who knows who else that isn’t on ADS-B?!) Now that I’ve programmed alerts tracking most of their fleet, I’m also seeing missions in the Atlantic off South Carolina & Florida too.”

IAI Kfir mission (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham)

ATAC, acquired in July 2016 by Textron Inc.’s new Textron Airborne Solutions company, has been performing air-to-ship, air-to-air and research & development missions in support of DoD for the last 20 years using a fleet of fast jets that includes 6x IAI Kfir C2, 2x L-39ZA Albatros and several Hawker Hunters.

The company provides advanced Adversary support at all levels of the US Navy’s air-to-air training programs, from Fleet Replacement Squadrons to the Navy’s graduate level “TOPGUN” program.

Indeed, the ATAC’s Kfir can be often spotted at NAS Fallon (where the top shot was taken by aviation photographer Kedar Karmarkar): if you look for one of the Israeli jet’s serial numbers (for instance, N402AX) in FR24’s database, you’ll find several flights of the supersonic fighter at the Naval Fighter Weapons School in Nevada.

A Kfir from NAS Fallon. Note that part of the track is outside of FR24 coverage.

But adversary training at Point Mugu and the Top Gun school at NAS Fallon are not the only activities ATAC jets carry out.

According to the company’s website “ATAC also trains the U.S. Air Force, specifically in the European theater supporting the United States Air Forces, Europe (USAFE) with JTAC Training, as well as CONUS F-15 Operational Readiness Evaluations, “Red Flag/Northern Edge” exercises, and has been entrusted to provide support for Air Force F-22 Raptor crews.”

ATAC is not the only company to provide live Red Air aggressor training services for the U.S Air Force and U.S. Navy: Draken International; and Discovery Air Defence Services, a subsidiary of Discovery Air, are also regularly awarded contracts to perform such services.

Top image credit: Kedar Karmarkar

 

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Flightradar24 exposes the presence of U.S. and allied ISR planes operating over Daesh stronghold in Iraq

Several spyplanes and drones keep an eye on Mosul, ISIS headquarters in northern Iraq.

As our readers know, we’ve been reporting about U.S. and allied planes that can be tracked online during war missions since at least 2011 when, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, some of the combat planes involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net.

Five years later, little has changed and transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, thus breaking OPSEC and exposing aerial refueling tracks or clandestine operations, like those being flown on a daily basis in North Africa, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

For instance, last night as many as three Beech 300 Super King Air aircraft could be tracked while they circled over Mosul while hunting for Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions.

N166BA

These days, along with the tankers, several quasi-civilian U.S. Army-operated aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12/45 N56EZ, the Super King Air 300 N80BZ and N166BA and several MC-12W Liberty (the military variant of the B350 King Air).

Like the one, registered N6351V that crash landed near Erbil, Iraq on Mar. 5. In that case, the mishap exposed the fact that the Liberty (just like many other special mission aircraft operating in the same area) sported a non-standard white color scheme  to disguise itself as a light transport plane.

N6351V

But in spite of its general aviation appearance the aircraft was actually an MC-12W EMARSS (Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System) variant used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), COMINT (Communication Intelligence), direction finding as well as Full Motion Video broadcasting to the tactical commanders on the ground, for day and night target detection, location, classification and tracking, as well as counter-IED operations.

All these modified aircraft are equipped with EO/IR (electro-optic/infra-red) sensors, aerial precision geolocation system, line-of-sight tactical and beyond line-of-sight communications suites, Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) workstations, and a self-protection suite: much more than a normal general aviation plane….

Beech 300 Super King Air

Another frequent visitors of the skies over Iraq is also a Bombardier Global 6000. According to some ADS-B experts it may be a RAF Sentinel R1, a quite advanced ISR platform that has been extensively used in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, or an E-11A, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accommodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Whatever it is, needless to say, it can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com.

H/T to @CivilMilAir, Guglielmo Guglielmi, Guido Olimpio, Avi Scharf and Greg Anderson for contributing to this post. Top image credit: FR24.com via Greg Anderson. Image credit: Rudaw.

 

Is a Turkish UAV currently operating inside the Iraqi airspace?

What might be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is circling over the border between Turkey and Iraq.

Increasingly, military aircraft as well as UAVs can be tracked online thanks to the emissions of their Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders.

In fact, these aircraft do not broadcast their ADS-B data but their position can be determined by means of Multilateration (MLAT).

MLAT (used by Flightradar24.com) uses Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA): by measuring the difference in time to receive the signal from aircraft from four different receivers, the aircraft can be geolocated and followed even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

This means that the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track online are civil airliners and business jets that broadcast their callsign, altitude, position and speed via ADS-B in a cooperative way to let ground stations and nearby aircraft aware of their presence, whereas military aircraft (like the U.S. Special Operations aircraft daily flying over North Africa) equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders can be tracked even though they are not broadcasting their position, because they can geolocated with MLAT.

What is happening right now over northern Iraq is at least weird.

A small aircraft or most probably a UAV, whose track appear to have originated from Turkey, is circling over northern Iraq, north of Mosul, being tracked by a feeder (a user with commercial off-the-shelf receiver available on the market) located in Erbil.

What’s unusual is that the aircraft, provided it is a UAV, is transmitting its data in the clear for everyone to see. Usually, aircraft (either manned or unmanned) performing clandestine missions can be tracked thanks to MLAT and not because their ADS-B transponder is turned on….

Any idea? Is it a drone or a small plane?

TuAF UAV over border 2

Image credit: Flightradar24.com