U.S. military releases video showing a Russian Su-27 fighter jet colliding with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone above the Black Sea earlier this week. pic.twitter.com/4wrHauzObC— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) March 16, 2023
A remarkable video released by the Pentagon shows the moments before a Russian fighter crashed into a $32m US Reaper drone after spraying it with jet fuel on Tuesday morning over the Black Sea.
The declassified footage shows an Su-27 Flanker jet making two exceptionally close passes of the uncrewed drone, spraying fuel in front of it, a harassment tactic that US experts say has not been seen before.
By pausing the imagery is is possible to see that the Su-27 was armed with at least four missiles. The US has said the Reaper was unarmed, most likely undertaking surveillance and reconnaissance related to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Pentagon said the footage, which is about 40 seconds long, had been edited by the US military for length but showed events in a sequential order at the end of a sustained period of harassment by two Russian jets.
The US has previously said the drone was damaged after a pair of Su-27s had spent at least half an hour trying to disrupt it by dumping fuel on it and flying in front of it. US air force officials said earlier this week that the jets flew close to the drone 19 times, spraying jet fuel on the last three or four times.
Russia has denied US accusations that its jets acted recklessly in the incident – and has denied its aircraft came into contact with the drone. It insists the drone fell from the sky after making a “sharp manoeuvre” and that it was flying towards Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014.
The video was released with the following caption: “Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a US Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft operating within international airspace over the Black Sea on 14 March 2023. Russian Su-27s dumped fuel upon and struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters.”
Justin Bronk, an aviation analyst with the Rusi thinktank, said: “The footage does show two extremely close and unprofessional passes at significant angles of attack, which is in line with the US claims that the Russian pilot involved in the collision was flying recklessly and accidentally collided with the MQ-9.”
On Wednesday, the Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, called the incident a provocation. “We are concerned about the unacceptable activity of the US military in the immediate vicinity of our borders,” he said, accusing the US of supplying intelligence to Kyiv. The US had summoned the ambassador over the incident.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a large remotely piloted aircraft, 11 metres long with a wingspan of over 22 metres, and can be armed if deemed necessary. The US Air Force says its primary use is as “an intelligence-collection asset” but it has frequently been used in drone strikes against targets in the ongoing war on terror.
The defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, and joint chiefs of staff chairman, Gen Mark Milley, have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the destruction of the drone.
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