Russian jet knocks U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone out of the sky

U.S. Air Force Reaper drone

Fears of an escalation between nuclear superpowers Russia and the United States mounted Tuesday after a U.S. Air Force Reaper drone was knocked down in international waters over the Black Sea during an encounter with two Russian fighter jets.

Each nation gave different accounts of the incident but the aircraft that went down was a MQ-9 Reaper, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled flight operations, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

The first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, the Reaper carries a suite of sophisticated sensors for a close-up view from 10,000 feet, as well as a mix of Hellfire missiles plus laser- and GPS-guided bombs to attack targets. It can cruise for 27 hours, operated remotely from Nevada by relays of pilots.

In 2008 the UAVs were $14 million apiece, but more recent Air Force budget figures show each new Reaper costs $32 million.

According to the US Defense Department, “Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea today.”

At approximately 7:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

A Russian Federation air force Su-27 fighter participates in Vigilant Eagle 13. (Photo by Mary Kavanagh, Canadian Forces Artist Program/Released)

“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added.

This incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea. These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa routinely fly aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with applicable host nation and international laws. In order to bolster collective European defense and security, these missions support Allied, partner, and U.S. national objectives.

Responding to US military assertions that the Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of a US surveillance drone, causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle, Russian defense ministry officials said the Russian fighter jets did not use weapons or impact the US drone that went down after an encounter over the Black Sea.

The Russian ministry said the American drone was flying near the Russian border and intruded into an area declared off limits by Russian authorities, who scrambled fighters to intercept the drone.

The Russians claimed the UAV crashed into the water after a sharp maneuver.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Germany’s response to the explosion on North Sea pipelines showed that the country remained “occupied” and unable to act independently decades after its surrender at the end of World War II.

Interviewed on Russian television, Putin also said European leaders had been browbeaten into losing their sense of sovereignty and independence.

Western countries, including Germany, have reacted cautiously to investigations into the blasts which hit Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipelines last year, saying they believe they were a deliberate act, but declining to say who they think was responsible.

“The matter is that European politicians have said themselves publicly that after World War II, Germany was never a fully sovereign state,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as telling state Rossiya-1 TV channel.

“The Soviet Union at one point withdrew its forces and ended what amounted to an occupation of the country. But that, as is well known, was not the case with the Americans. They continue to occupy Germany,” said Putin.

Putin told the interviewer that the blasts were carried out on a “state level” and dismissed as “complete nonsense” suggestions that an autonomous pro-Ukraine group was responsible.

“On the morning of March 14 this year. over the waters of the Black Sea in the region of the Crimean peninsula, the means of controlling the airspace of the Russian Aerospace Forces recorded the flight of an American unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation,” said a Russian defense ministry statement.

“The flight of the unmanned aerial vehicle was carried out with the transponders turned off, violating the boundaries of the area of ​​the temporary regime for the use of airspace, established for the purpose of conducting a special military operation, communicated to all users of international airspace and published in accordance with international standards,” said the Russian statement.

“In order to identify the intruder, fighters from the air defense forces on duty were raised into the air,” the Russians said. “As a result of sharp maneuvering around 9.30 (Moscow time), the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface.”

“The Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their base airfield,” said the Russian statement.

One thought on “Russian jet knocks U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone out of the sky

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: