Atlantique II. Wikimedia commons photo

Spy Planes Massing off Syria

David Cenciotti explains the aerial recon efforts preceding possible strikes 

French and American airborne surveillance aircraft are gathering around Syria. This is an important sign, if past experience is any indication. French recon planes also converged at nearby bases in the weeks that preceded the kick-off of Operation Odyssey Dawn against Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

According to Air Cosmos, two French navy Atlantique II aircraft have moved to Akrotiri, a Royal Air Force base in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean just 150 miles off the Syrian coast. Here the twin-engine propeller-driven recon planes have joined two French E-3D radar early warning planes and the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets that London has detached to provide Cyprus’ air defense.

The Atlantique maritime patrol aircraft are signals-intelligence assets that have been extensively used in Mali during Operation Serval, flying from Dakar in Senegal. They will be used to eavesdrop on Syrian communications and other electronic signals in order to have a better understanding of what is happening in the country.

In addition to some U-2s spy planes, the U.S. has moved Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and Special Ops C-130s to Souda Bay, Crete. The aircraft were monitored by aircraft spotters as they flew eastbound via Lajes, Azores. It’s not clear whether they deployed to the Mediterranean following the Syrian crisis or they were involved in a preplanned overseas deployment.

For sure, they could be useful in performing combat search-and-rescue and personnel-recovery missions in case of an attack on Syria by manned aircraft such as B-2 or B-52 bombers.

Meanwhile, the Navy carrier USS Nimitz is heading towards the Red Sea to put its air wing within range of Syria.

And on Sept. 2, the Pentagon’s WC-135 Constant Phoenix airborne sniffer, previously monitored as it flew eastward on Aug. 28, was heard flying back to the U.S. via the Mediterranean Sea and Malta. Was it used to collect evidence of the Syrian government’s chemical attacks?

This article previously appeared in a slightly different form at Cenciotti’s The Aviationist blog. Subscribe to War is Boring: