New US drone routes over Black Sea limit intel gathering related to Ukraine war, US official says

The US decision to fly its surveillance drones further south over the Black Sea after a Russian jet collided with a US drone earlier this month “definitely limits our ability to gather intelligence” related to the Ukraine war, a senior US military official tells CNN, reports.

Flying drones at greater distances reduces the quality of intelligence they can gather, a US military official explained, noting that spy satellites can compensate to some degree but have shorter times over targets, again reducing effectiveness relative to surveillance drones. 

After the Russian jet collided with a US Reaper drone earlier this month, the US began flying its surveillance drones further south and at a higher altitude over the Black Sea than previously, placing them further away from airspace surrounding the Crimean Peninsula and eastern portions of the Black Sea.  

When CNN first reported this change, one US official said the new routes were part of an effort “to avoid being too provocative,” as the Biden administration continues to be careful to avoid any incident that could escalate into a direct conflict with Russian forces. The official said the drone flights would continue this way “for the time being,” but added there is already “an appetite” to return to the routes closer to Russian-held territory.

Asked about the new routes’ impact on intelligence gathering, Pentagon spokesperson Gen. Patrick Ryder told CNN that they are "not going to discuss missions, routes, or timing of operations. We're also not going to discuss intelligence operations other than to say we maintain a robust ISR capability in the region and beyond.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council referred questions to the Pentagon. 

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