n Thursday, September 14, 2023, a NATO surveillance unmanned aircraft (UAV) RQ-4D Phoenix concluded a flight along the Finnish-Russian border for the first time. The unmanned aircraft, which traveled at high altitudes over Allied territories and in international airspace, collected data for the Allies to support their collective deterrence and defense.

NATO Air Command confirmed the mission, which had been visible through online flight tracking services that showed the UAV flying from its base on the Italian island of Sicily and moving along a third of the length from the Finnish-Russian border to about 460 km north of Helsinki, before returning along the same route.

NATO's RQ-4D drone

The mission was the first time that a NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF) RQ-4D drone flew over Finland.

This mission came as NATO Air Forces continued to step up their reconnaissance missions on the Alliance’s eastern borders in the wake of Russia’s full-blown war against Ukraine.

The mission, called MAGMA10, was the first carried out by Phoenix in NATO’s High North and comes six months after Finland opened its airspace to allow intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft from “key international partners.”

NATO's RQ-4D drone

Since 2022, the Alliance’s Ground Surveillance drone fleet has carried out multiple missions on the Alliance’s eastern flank, predominantly in the Black Sea region. The September 14 flight also served to familiarize NAGSF operators with the new terrain.

Nicknamed “Phoenix,” the RQ-4D drones are among the most advanced drones in the world, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services over a wide area. The planes, owned by NATO and operated by its pilots, are based in Sigonella (Italy) and can remain in the air for more than 30 hours at a time. Surveillance and reconnaissance data collected by aircraft and analyzed by NAGSF experts are made available to all Allies to inform Alliance decision-making processes.

NATO Allied Air Command