US Drone appeared on radar during an active mission in the Middle East
A United States Air Force, Northrop Grumman EQ-4 "Global Hawk" High Altitude Reconnaissance UAV could be tracked online during a possible active mission over Middle Eastern airspace last night.
The EQ-4 is stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE which is home to the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, the "E" in EQ-4 resembles that the BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) is installed on board. BACN is used to distribute imagery, video, voice, and data to troops on the ground allowing them to reach back over mountainous terrain, BACN can also act as a "High Altitude Relay" for airdrop and airstrike operations. BACN is currently installed on three Elusive Bombardier E-11A's and three EQ-4 / RQ-4 Global Hawks.
|E-11A in BACN Configuration|
Image Source Airliners.net
|EQ-4 with BACN installed|
Image Source : USAF
Late Sunday night, February 19th 2017 an aircraft using the Mode-S Callsign "UAVGH" (UAV Global Hawk) could be seen just east of Bahrain exiting Iraqi Airspace flying at nearly 60,000 feet, visible on the flight tracking website FlightRadar24 partaking in what could have potentially been an active mission. Screenshots below show that the aircraft was using the bogus hex code "000001", this particular anomaly is believed to happen when either, during installation of the transponder, the code was incorrectly entered or as speculation claims, the UAV operator somehow purposely entered the false hex-code to possibly hide the Drones identity.
A Mode-S code often referred to as a "Hex-Code" is essentially a virtual "ID" with all the necessary info to identify an aircraft via radar, Without a proper Hex-Code an aircraft cannot be identified thus making its info such as registration, operator, etc..."invisible" to flight tracking websites like ADS-B Exchange or FlightRadar24.
This particular Global Hawk appeared to be exiting Iraqi airspace where it could have been flying an active ISR- Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Mission for quite some time with its transponder switched off, which is standard procedure for any "Spy Aircraft" flying over conflicted airspace with due regard. In fact, the Global Hawk can remain airborne for some 30 Hours+ if need be. Global Hawk operations in the middle east are not by any means "rare", as these occur almost daily in areas such as the Middle East in support of "Operation Inherent Resolve" but what is unusual is the fact, we're seeing more Global Hawks operating in conflicted areas with their transponder ON, even without "bogus" or "miscoded" hex codes.
For example, just 3 weeks ago a USAF RQ-4 Global Hawk could be seen departing NAS Sigonella, Italy where the USAF's 9th Operations Group, Detachment-4 from Beale AFB, California have stationed several RQ-4 Global Hawks. The UAV (once again using a bogus hex-code) made its way South towards Libya, remained on station for approximately 20 Hours, then returned to NAS Sigonella. During the flight, the RQ-4 was visible on both ADS-B Exchange and FlightRadar24 roughly the whole time.
|RQ-4 departs NAS Sigonella, Italy|
|RQ-4 Hours later on station over Libya|
But what strikes as odd, is the fact just ONE day later another USAF RQ-4 Global Hawk, this time using a proper US based Military Hex-Code appeared on ADS-B Exchange above Ukraine loitering for an hour or so. The UAV made its way east then west, then later returned to an undisclosed location with its transponder turned OFF.
|RQ-4 over Ukraine February 4th, 2017|
So in conclusion, there's speculation as to why these UAVs are letting everyone know their location. Could it be to purposely let the enemy know that an RQ-4 is overhead monitoring every movement ? Could turning the transponder ON, be pilot error ? We don't and probably won't know for sure why these UAVs continue to make their presence known but we can only assume officials are aware and incidents like these will only continue to occur on a regular basis.