TechNATO strengthens patrols over the Baltic. It will send flying spies

NATO strengthens patrols over the Baltic. It will send flying spies

NATO increases the number of patrols over the Baltic - illustrative picture
NATO increases the number of patrols over the Baltic - illustrative picture
Images source: © Getty Images | 2023 Oleg Nikishin
ed. KMO

10:06 AM EDT, October 20, 2023

NATO and its allies are increasing the number of patrols conducted in the Baltic Sea. This decision is related to recent damages to undersea infrastructure in the region. Additional surveillance and reconnaissance flights will be conducted using maritime patrol aircraft, NATO AWACS aircraft, and drones. Also, four NATO mine destroyers will be directed to the region.

The decision to increase patrols in the Baltic Sea was made almost two weeks after Finland reported damage to the 50-mile Balticconnector gas pipeline, which connects the country with Estonia. Damage also occurred to an underwater telecommunications cable running through the Gulf of Finland.

NATO strengthens patrols over the Baltic

NATO reminds that patrols in this region were reinforced last year after the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which took place in September 2022. Then, at the beginning of 2023, the Maritime Center for Undersea Critical Infrastructure Security was established under the command of the Allied Maritime Forces and the NATO Maritime Command, as well as a coordinating cell for undersea infrastructure, whose task is to deepen relations between governments, military, industrial entities, and NATO.

Boeing E-3A Sentry

According to a NATO statement, AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) reconnaissance aircraft will be engaged in patrols. The North Atlantic Alliance uses, among other things, Boeing E-3A Sentry, which are American early warning and air surveillance aircraft, often called the eyes and ears of the US army. The Boeing E-3A Sentry is a modified version of the Boeing 707-320, which is easily recognizable by its characteristic "cap", a radar station mounted on its fuselage. It is a kind of command, communication, and guidance center.

As reported by NATO, the plane usually operates at an altitude of 32,808 feet. At this altitude, a single Boeing E-3A can continuously monitor the airspace within a radius of over approximately 249 miles, and an area of about 120,473 square miles remains in its field of vision. In turn, three cooperating E-3As "can ensure full coverage [radar] of Central Europe." Additionally, the digital data links installed in it allow almost instantaneous exchange of information with command centers on land, at sea, and in the air.

These planes can also - to a limited extent - monitor the situation on the ground, detecting the presence of various kinds of moving objects. According to NATO, the pulsed-Doppler radar used in them allows for accurate target distinction. For this reason, the Boeing E-3A can detect even very low-flying aircraft within a radius of 248.548 miles and medium-altitude aircraft within a radius of 323.113 miles.

RC-135W Rivet Joint

In addition to Beoing E-3A planes, Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft may also appear over the Baltic Sea. These machines have frequently appeared over Poland and flown near the borders with Belarus and Ukraine. The Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint is a machine designed by Boeing for electronic and photographic reconnaissance for the USAF (US Air Force). The RC-135 was built based on the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter transport aircraft.

The RC-135 version is equipped with a set of sensors for tracking and identifying geolocation signals in the electromagnetic spectrum. The maximum speed of the aircraft is 540 mph, and its range is 4040 miles. The aircraft can locate and recognize emissions of electromagnetic radiation, radar emissions, electronic or communication emissions. In the case of the RC-135W Rivet Joint, the intercepted data is transmitted to operators via a secure satellite communication data link.

RQ-4B Global Hawk

The NATO statement also includes information about drones. NATO can utilize the capabilities offered by the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. They are used for aerial reconnaissance non-stop for 24 hours from an altitude of approximately 12.4 miles, regardless of weather conditions and time of day. The main task of this drone is to collect and transmit data in near real-time.

The radar equipment and various sensors installed in it, which operate in the infrared band, among others, allow for detection of an incoming threat much earlier than ground-based radars. The RQ-4B Global Hawk can move at a speed exceeding 354 mph. It is equipped with an AN/ALR 89 radar warning receiver, an onboard jamming system, and a towed ALE 50 decoy system.

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