The US European Command (EUCOM) has released declassified footage of the March 14 incident over the Black Sea, which saw a Russian Su-27 fighter clip the propeller of a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper, downing the drone.
The incident took place around 7:03 AM (CET), with one of two Russian Su-27 aircraft that intercepted the drone collided with the propeller of the MQ-9.
Prior to the collision, the Su-27s repeatedly flew in front of and dumped fuel on the MQ-9 in an unsafe and unprofessional manner.
The US Air Force has also released an infographic that depicts approximations of the locations and times of the collision and the subsequent crash into the Black Sea.
The US military is releasing a peculiar amount of information on the incident after alleged Russian video footage of the accident began emerging on March 15. It also follows unconfirmed rumors of Russians having recovered the drone from the sea floor.
Responding to the rumors, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark said the US military knew where the Reaper landed in the Black Sea.
“It’s probably in about 4-5 thousand feet of water. So any recovery operation will be very difficult at that depth, by anyone. It’s true we don’t have any ships there but we do have a lot of allies and friends in the area. We’ll work through recovery operations. That’s US property. It probably broke up, there’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly,” he added.
This is the first incident involving US and Russian aircraft since the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine in February last year. While challenging Russian intercepts of US military aircraft over the Black Sea are nothing unusual, an intercept so aggressive that it forced an unmanned aircraft down is possibly the first such known event in years.
“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 US Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker on the day of the accident. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
“US and allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added.