Tuesday we learned that a Russian fighter jet had struck and damaged a US “Reaper” drone operating over international waters near Ukraine. The drone was damaged and had to be ditched in the Black Sea.
White House spokesman John Kirby said this was not the first time Russian jets had intercepted US drones but it was the most “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter. For its part, the Russians did what the usually do: they lied.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied striking the MQ-9 and claimed instead that, “as a result of sharp maneuvering,” the drone was observed by Russian pilots in “uncontrolled flight” before losing altitude and crashing into the sea.
I assumed they were lying but at the time couldn’t actually prove it because there was no additional evidence offered. Today, the U.S. European Command released footage which definitively proves the Russians were lying. In addition to the video, the US European Command released this timeline:
00:00: [Start of video] A Russian Su-27 approaches to the rear of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9.
00:05: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel as it passes. 00:09 A Russian Su-27 passes over the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 while releasing fuel. As the Su-27 passes over the top of the MQ-9, it also disrupts the video transmission.
00:11: The propeller of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 can be seen and remains undamaged.
00:22: A Russian Su-27 begins a second approach toward the MQ-9. 00:27: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel on the approach toward the MQ-9. The Su-27 proceeds to pass even closer.
00:29: A Russian Su-27 collides with the MQ-9 and the MQ-9’s camera feed is lost for approximately 60 seconds.
00:39: The MQ-9’s camera feed has returned to working order. At this time the propeller can be seen again and one of the props can be seen damaged.
Here’s the clip. The release says this has been edited for length but the content is all in chronological order.
You can briefly see the damaged prop in the video but here’s a still, showing it was badly bent after the second jet passed.
So, as you can see, nothing the Russians said was true. The drone was damaged by the Russian jets not by “sharp maneuvering.” This is a pretty significant moment in this conflict. It’s the first time since the start of the “special military operation” where Russia and the US were directly in conflict. The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement which said in part:
Sergei Shoigu pointed out that the cause of the incident was the actions of the United States for non-compliance with the flight restriction zone declared by the Russian Federation, established in connection with a special military operation, as well as increased intelligence activities against the interests of the Russian Federation.
It was noted that the flights of American strategic unmanned aerial vehicles off the coast of Crimea have a provocative nature, which creates prerequisites for an escalation of the situation in the Black Sea zone.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rejected that explanation and made clear Russia has no protected zone around Crimea.
I know that everyone here has heard that Russian aircraft again engaged in dangerous, reckless, and unprofessional practices on Tuesday in international airspace over the Black Sea. Two Russian jets dumped fuel on an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 aircraft conducting routine operations in international airspace. And one Russian jet intercepted and hit our MQ-9 aircraft, resulting in a crash.
This hazardous episode is a part of a pattern of aggressive, and risky, and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.
So make no mistake: The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.
According to US officials, the drone was about 50 miles off the coast of Crimea. International waters begin at 12 miles off the coast, so this was not even close. Despite that, the US says the decision to attempt to intercept the drone was not made by the pilots.
The “highest levels” of the Russian government approved Tuesday’s incident that saw a Russian fighter jet collide with a U.S. reaper drone over the Black Sea, according to a new report.
The decision on the drone went to the topmost level at the Kremlin in Moscow, three U.S. officials told NBC News. One clarified that there was not any indication that the decision had gone all the way to President Vladimir Putin himself, however.
So I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying the Russian Defense Minister approved this. As for the actual collision, maybe that was an accident. Gen. Milley said he’s not sure yet.
“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,” he said.
Even if it was accidental, accidents like this only happen when you’re doing something dangerous. Consider for a moment what could have happened if the collision had been more serious and the Russian Su-27 had also gone down in the Black Sea along with the drone. Maybe the pilot would get out alive and maybe not. What story would the Russians have told then? If a pilot had been killed this could have been much more serious.
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