Monday’s flight was the first time an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft has flown over the region, according to Lt. Cmdr. Russ Wolfkiel, a spokesman for US European Command.
While the Pentagon has not revealed exactly what intelligence the aircraft was gathering, Wolfkiel told CNN that the US “routinely operates aircraft in the Black Sea region in support of various US and coalition intelligence objectives.”
The aircraft flew with the permission of the Ukrainian government, and while the exact route has not been revealed, Wolfkiel said it stayed out of the Donbas region where pro-Russian separatist forces demanding independence from Ukraine operate.
Still, the aircraft sensors can collect intelligence about military movements on the ground, potentially on both sides of the border, without entering disputed areas or Russian airspace.
An on-board antenna has a 120-degree field of view that can cover nearly 20,000 square miles to monitor ground movements, according to an Air Force fact sheet, and can also detect aircraft.
CNN reported Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and its escort ships to stay in the Mediterranean area rather than sail to the Middle East as part of an effort to reassure European allies of the US military’s commitment to defense of the region.