The U.S. Air Force released a press statement on March 14, 2022, announcing that a U.S.-flown MQ-9 Reaper drone was forcefully grounded and rendered inoperable over the Black Sea by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets.
Two Russian combat jets made multiple passes over the MQ-9 drone in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Some of these passes included dumping jet fuel on the drone. Jet fuel can cause corrosion over the long run, but it is more likely the Russian fighters were attempting to disable it. The goal was ultimately achieved when one of the Su-27s struck the drone, damaging the propeller propulsion system. This forced Air Force operators to bring the drone down. The Russian jet likely incurred minor damage as well, but it was able to land safely at an in-range air base.
At this point, it is unknown if the MQ-9 was carrying a combat load of AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, guided/unguided bombs, or AIM-9X air-to-air missiles (a variant of the AIM-9X missile was used to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon earlier this year.) It is also unclear if drone operators made any instigating action, but the Air Force has stated that the drone was on a routine operation before the interception.
Russian source Tacc reported a day later that Kremlin-associated officials announced a search-and-recover expedition to locate the drone and study it. American experts allege that there won’t be much to find. U.S. defense officials have stated that the drone likely broke up during either the descent or hard landing.
“…There’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly,” said General Mark Milley, according to ABC.
As of today, March 16th, a video of the incident has been edited down and declassified and can be viewed here:
While naval assets have been put on higher alert, U.S. forces are not likely to pursue recovery, as there are no Navy assets in the area, and any remaining parts have sunk a possible 4,000 feet deep.
Ukrainian sources allege that the incident was a Kremlin attempt to expand the conflict location and further entangle the U.S. in the conflict, according to Reuters.
Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov has stated that Russia “consider[s] any action with the use of U.S. weaponry as openly hostile.” Antonov has also requested the U.S. to “stop flights near Russian borders.”
The U.S. Air Force has stated they will continue routine flights in the area.
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