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Russian Fighter Jet Collides With U.S. MQ-9 Drone

Su-27 Dumped Fuel on U.S. Drone Prior to Collision

U.S. European Command reported on Tuesday, 14 March 2023, that a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet had collided with an unarmed American MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The collision, which occurred in international airspace, catastrophically damaged the drone and occasioned its loss in the Black Sea.

The incident followed what the U.S. military called “an unsafe and unprofessional intercept” of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper at 07:03 Central European Time. The United States routinely operates surveillance drones over the Black Sea, to include Surveillance, Intelligence, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions near Russian-occupied Crimea.

U.S. military sources stated a flight of two Russian Su-27s flew in front of and dumped fuel on the MQ-9 “several times” before one of the fighters—presumably inadvertently—struck the drone’s aft-facing propeller.

U.S. Air Force Europe-Air Forces Africa Commander General James B. Hecker set forth in a statement: “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. … In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

Whether or not the Su-27 was damaged in the incident remains unknown.

EUCOM added in a separate statement that the collision “demonstrates a lack of competence” on behalf of the Russians.

National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters Joe Biden had been briefed on the incident. Kirby alleged Russian intercepts of U.S. aircraft and drones are not uncommon, but conceded the 14 March incident is “the first time that an intercept resulted in the splashing of one of our drones.”

Kirby went on to assert the U.S. State Department would contact Moscow regarding the incident, adding: “I want to stress that this MQ-9 was operating in international airspace over international waters and posed a threat to nobody.”

In February 2022, Russian Su-35 fighter jets crossed the flightpath of a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea, nearing to within five-feet of the 737-derivative ISR aircraft. Alluding to the antecedent instance in the wake of the MQ-9’s downing, EUCOM stated: “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.”

In addition to instantiating increasing Russian bellicosity, the loss of the MQ-9 follows a period of increasingly belligerent behavior by Chinese fighter pilots intercepting U.S. surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea. Pentagon officials insist harassment by Chinese military aircraft will not deter the U.S. from protecting its assets and pursuing its aims in the region.

General Hecker concluded: “U.S. and allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely.”



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