US European Command (EUCOM) has declassified footage of a recent encounter between a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 and an MQ-9 Reaper operated by the United States. The harrowing footage shows the fighter jet colliding with the drone, following attempts to spray the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with fuel.
The footage was captured via a camera on the underside of the Reaper, and shows an encounter with two Su-27s around 7:00 AM local time on March 14, 2023. According to a statement from EUCOM, the UAV was operating in international airspace over the Black Sea.
The video, which has been condensed for time, shows one of the fighter jets approach the MQ-9’s rear, before releasing a spray of fuel that causes the camera to briefly malfunction. Once visuals are recovered, the Su-27 can be seen making an even closer pass over the Reaper, this time colliding with the propellor toward the rear of the UAV.
Upon impact, communication with the drone was lost for approximately one minute. When it resumed, the camera picked up damage to the MQ-9’s propellor that was so extensive that the US military had to bring it down in the Black Sea, resulting in a “complete loss.”
In total, it’s believed the encounter lasted just over half an hour.
The downing of the Reaper by the Su-27 marked the first time that American and Russian aircraft have come into contact since the Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2022. EUCOM released a statement not long after, accusing the Russian fighter jets of performing an “unsafe and unprofessional intercept” with the drone, which was “conducting routine operations.”
“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,” the statement read. “This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”
Prior to EUCOM releasing the footage, the Russian government claimed the Reaper had conducted a sharp maneuver and crashed after encountering the Su-27s, which had taken to the skies near Crimea to intercept it.
Speaking at a press conference on March 15, US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley revealed he wasn’t sure if the collision was an intentional act, saying, “Was it intentional or not? Don’t know yet. We know the intercept was intentional. We know the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it was very unprofessional.”
At present, US military officials have said the MQ-9 crashed into an area of the Black Sea where the water sits between 4,000 and 5,000 feet deep, meaning any sort of recovery effort would be difficult. Milley added that the Department of Defense was looking into its options, which could include the assistance of allies in the region, as the US doesn’t have “any naval surface vessels in the Black Sea at this time.”
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Russia is currently looking into retrieving the wreckage from the Black Sea, according to two unnamed officials in an interview with CNN. While the US government wouldn’t confirm the claims, it was revealed that all intelligence data had been wiped.
“[We’ve] made it impossible for them to be able to glean anything of intelligence value off the remnants of that drone, whatever remnants there might be on the surface of the water,” said National Security Council Communications Director John Kirby.