​Crowded Airspace: How NATO Aircraft Guards Antony Blinken on his Trip to Kyiv

Open-source illustrative photo
Open-source illustrative photo

In preparation for the American official's visit to Ukraine, NATO aircraft was raised to provide full operational awareness and protection needed, most of the effort hiding behind the scenes of public attention

Official visit of any high-ranking person to Ukraine now entails security measures utilized to the fullest extent, most of which are not public at all. Traditionally, such visits are not announced, but of course this doesn't mean they are not planned in advance. However, despite the secrecy, some things cannot be hidden, for example, as evidenced by today's visit of the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Kyiv, May 14th.

The scale of preparation and guard from the air is perfectly visible on the Flightradar24 monitoring service. At around 16:00 local time, we can witness strategic reconnaissance drones, airborne long-range radar systems, electronic intelligence aircraft, tankers and, obviously, fighter jets patrolling the airspace near the borders of Ukraine and the russian federation.

Read more: Videos Appear to Show Ukrainian Pilots Conducting High-Risk Wild Weasel Tactic

Roaming over the Black Sea south of the country is a RQ-4B Global Hawk strategic reconnaissance UAV and a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft. There's a KC-135 air tanker also nearby which directly indicates the presence of some other aircraft that are not displayed on Flightradar24 due to their transponders turned off. Most likely, somewhere over Romania may be crossing the skies an E-3 Sentry early warning and control aircraft, as well as fighter jets of NATO countries normally deployed at the Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, near Constanța city.

There is even greater activity in the skies of Poland, where an Italian G550 AEW is openly flying, which, thanks to its Israeli-made EL/M-2085 radar, can observe the surroundings within a 450-km range. Behind the scenes, however, there are many more aircraft there requiring, once again, a significant number of tankers in the sky.

In addition to the British KC-3 spotted in the area, the U.S. Air Force keeps at least three KC-135s over Poland. Though ready for takeoff are a few more as we could see one KC-135 (registration number 63-8878) replaced by another KC-135 (60-0335) near Bydgoszcz at some point.

Such a density of tanker aircraft also directly points to a whole group of units conducting aerial surveillance and providing weaponized cover. That is, possibly a E-3 Sentry or a similar AWACS, plus fighter escort. And not just a few of them, because one KC-135 can carry up to 90.7 tons of fuel.

Although there is no clear formula for exactly how many fighters this tanker can refuel per flight, as it depends on a huge number of variables, for such missions the proportion would be approximately one tanker per 4–12 aircraft.

Meanwhile, an aircraft without additional data and designated as Bombardier Challenger 650 was patrolling over the Baltic countries. The flight profile and the base aircraft model indicate that this is an American CL-650 ARTEMIS signal intelligence aircraft.

In summary, considering just the publicly visible ones, we are witnessing a substantial fleet of aircraft, primarily of the USA, which exercise control over the territory of the russian federation and its ally belarus, in full readiness to take action if necessary.

For comparison, Defense Express recommends to also take a look at our similar analysis from that time when U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting Ukraine.

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