Kazakhstan Accuses Uzbekistan Of Drone Incursion
Kazakhstan government officials have accused Uzbekistan of violating its airspace with an unmanned drone aircraft, backing the claim up with video showing the purported incursion. The incident happened February 16 in the area of Beyneu, on the far western end of the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border, according to KTK TV, citing sources in the security services. The government also has released a shaky video of the drone, which you can see at KTK's site. The drone, to The Bug Pit's untrained eye, could be either a Hermes 450 or a General Atomics MQ-9. And it's engaging in some un-dronelike behavior, buzzing close to the ground near some apartment blocks.
The UAV crossed the border of our country and went deep into the territory of Kazakhstan. The incident was reported to KTK correspondents by informed sources in the power structures. The aircraft was located in the Kazakh air space for about fifteen minutes. And it went unnoticed by air defense units because it flew at too low an altitude. The drone, presumably belonging to Uzbekistan, flew near two border posts, turned around and headed back toward the border and escaped to a neighboring state. Representatives of the Air Defense Forces and the intelligence units of the Ministry of Defense are involved in the situation. Whether the Uzbek authorities will be sent a protest note, is still unknown.
(Tengri News picked up the story and translated it into English, as well.)
Uzbekistan isn't known to operate any drone aircraft of its own, though it has in the past allowed the U.S. to launch reconnaissance drones from its territory. Any possible explanation seems hard to believe. Has Uzbekistan been operating a sophisticated drone program without anyone knowing? It doesn't seem implausible that the U.S. is secretly operating drones from Uzbekistan, but they would presumably be directed to the south, to Afghanistan, rather than buzzing Kazakhstan border towns. I'll try to do some digging, and anyone with knowledge, theories or wild speculation is welcome to drop a line.
Definitely not Predator or Reaper [MQ-9]. Looks a bit like a petite Israeli Hermes, but maybe too small. Probably Chinese. Wing Loong?
The plot thickens...
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.