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​How USA and Allies Provide Strategic Security for Joe Biden During His Visit to Ukraine

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Illustrative photo: an E-3 Sentry, followed by two F-22 Raptors and two F-35A Lightning II aircraft fly over Alaska May 5, 2020 / Illustrative photo credit: US Air Force
Illustrative photo: an E-3 Sentry, followed by two F-22 Raptors and two F-35A Lightning II aircraft fly over Alaska May 5, 2020 / Illustrative photo credit: US Air Force

US President's safety is ensured by an unprecedented number of aircraft

Joe Biden's visit to Ukraine has become truly unexpected. And, of course, it was unannounced due to all the security measures which might have been the biggest we have seen in a while. These measures were undertaken as well on the highest, strategic level. And the US's actions in the air are morth paying close attention.

On-the-ground activities put aside, there was quite an interesting situation in the airspace near Ukraine's border, and we can observe it thanks to the Flightradar24 service. And we should note right away, that this is only the part of the picture that the US and other NATO countries wanted to show publicly, because we talk about planes with transponders turned on. On February 20 morning, there were already two E-3B Sentry AWACS of the US Air Force waiting in the skies over Poland, to the west of Ukraine.

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E-3B Sentry is the most advanced version of this early warning and control airborne system, it can observe not only airspace but the ground beneath hundreds of kilometers away. In particular, the estimated skyline observation range of the E-3B Sentry is more than 800 km. Seeing two such planes at once in a single location on duty is indeed unprecedented, as usually one plane is enough to cover a designated area.

To ensure constant monitoring, USA involved several KC-135 refueling aircraft to add to the E-3B Sentry fuel from time to time.

Refuelling an E-3 Sentry
Refuelling an E-3 Sentry / Illustrative photo credit: US Department of Defense

There was also an RC-135W Rivet Joint in the sky since this morning to provide signal intelligence. This kind of aircraft is quite oftenly seen near Ukraine's borders, but those are usually the planes of the UK Royal Air Force.

RC-135W Rivet Joint
RC-135W Rivet Joint / Illustrative photo credit: US Department of Defense

In addition to the US planes, other NATO countries contributed as well. For example, there was a "rare guest" spotted in the Polish airspace – a Swedish reconnaissance aircraft.

Although it looked like an ordinary Gulfstream IV business jet, in fact it was a Saab S102B Korpe ELINT aircraft which is actively used by Sweden over the Baltic Sea to monitor russian movements in the region.

Saab S102B Korpen / Försvarsmakten
Saab S102B Korpen / Illustrative photo credit: Försvarsmakten

There was another plane on a reconnaissance mission disguised as a common Bombardier Challenger 650 business jet under the CL60 name without any register data. Most likely, it is the CL-650 ARTEMIS electronic intelligence aircraft hiding like that. This plane has been permanently stationed in Romania since January 2022. The capabilities of this plane are kept secret, the only thing known is that it outperforms the RC-135W Rivet Joint.

Romanian airspace was also occupied by an EP-3E Aries II, one more ELINT system based on the P-3 Orion plane.

Once again, the specs of this system are classified, the aircraft itself belongs to the US Air Force and took off from Crete.

EP-3E Aries II
EP-3E Aries II / Illustrative photo credit: US Department of Defense

In summary, the reconnaissance and surveillance were ensured by six specialized airborne systems at once. As a reminder, those are once the ones NATO allies allowed to see publicly, because the Flightradar24 only collects data from planes with transponders switched on. What is left behind the scenery, there is nothing left to do but only guess: from NATO combat aircraft patrolling near the Ukrainian border, ready to repel any russian provocation, up to US special forces on V-22 Osprey poised to evacuate the US President if anything happens.

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