Flight trackers got an interesting surprise late Friday night when six People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Y-20 cargo planes appeared heading west in Turkish airspace towards Serbia. Open-source aircraft tracker Evergreen Intel told The War Zone fellow tracker @ameliairheart first spotted the flights just north of Istanbul, Turkey.
“This was my cue to bring up both Flightradar24 and my ADSBexchange selective database that includes Y-20A/U known hex codes,” Evergreen Intel told The War Zone. “Sure enough, the different apps showed other Y-20s along the same flight route, spaced out about 100km apart stretching from Istanbul all the way to almost the Georgian border.”
“This was unique in that it was in the early hours and with so many Y-20s together, all using MLAT (multilateration). Given that it was said to be a scheduled weapons delivery, this makes sense. Similar NATO deliveries to Poland or Ukraine by military transports have used MLAT before.”
Y-20A number six.
Recap: The following six PLAAF 🇨🇳 Y-20As have been seen heading for Serbia: 20041 #7A4281 20042 #7A4282 20045 #7A4285 20047 #7A427F 20049 #7A4287 20142 #7A428A pic.twitter.com/RCqBjlSz8U — Evergreen Intel (@vcdgf555) April 9, 2022
As far as the use of MLAT versus ADS-B broadcasting, Evergreen Intel tells us, "As far as rates of delivery flights by NATO or chartered carriers that use MLAT vs ADS-B, I know MLAT flights have been going to Poland, the flights (pre-war) were using ADS-B... To me, emitting a signal with ADS-B from your plane announces to everyone where you are. That is useful for navigation, records, safety, etc but also to all sides this plane is here, we have a timestamp, altitude, flight parameters, all down to mere meters, and that is very useful in terms of intent and in case anything goes wrong. It was important for a delivery flight in a potentially hostile environment like pre-war Ukraine was. Otherwise, MLAT is a solid choice for aircraft from countries that don't necessarily mind if you can't see their whole route."
The Chinese cargo jets landed at Nikola Tesla International Airport in the capital of Belgrade, with plane watchers catching their Chinese markings on final approach and on the tarmac. Observers noted at least some of the planes had the covers for their chaff and flare countermeasures systems removed. It looks very much like they may have been equipped with live countermeasures, which would be anticipatory of some sort of potential threat. What that threat would have been isn't clear.
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