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    With ‘God’s-Eye View,’ Secretive Surveillance Flights Keep Close Watch on Russia and Ukraine

    With ‘God's-Eye View,' Secretive Surveillance Flights Keep Close Watch on Russia and Ukraine

    ABOARD A FRENCH AIR AWACS — Off in the distance, Ukraine, fighting for its survival. Seen from up here, in the cockpit of a French air force surveillance plane flying over neighboring Romania, the snow-dusted landscapes look deceptively peaceful.

    The dead from 's war, the shattered Ukrainian towns and mangled battlefields, aren't visible to the naked eye through the clouds.

    But French technicians riding farther back in the aircraft, monitoring screens that display the word “secret” when idle, have a far more penetrating view. With a powerful radar that rotates six times every minute on the fuselage and a bellyful of surveillance gear, the plane can spot missile launches, airborne bombing runs and other military activity in the conflict.

    As the second anniversary of Russia's Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine nears, The Associated Press obtained rare and exclusive access aboard the giant Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, aircraft. With 26 military personnel and an AP journalist aboard, it flew a 10-hour reconnaissance mission from central to Romanian airspace and back, peering with electronic eyes across southern Ukraine and the Black Sea to Russian-occupied Crimea and beyond.

    Circling on auto-pilot at 34,000 feet (10 kilometers), the plane with a proud cockerel painted on its tail fed intelligence in real time to ground-based commanders.

    Its mission for NATO on the eastern flank…

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