Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an intercept of a US Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft off the coast of Crimea on 14 March 2023 – which caused the drone to crash.
CAPTION: A Russian Air Force Su-27 attempts to dump fuel on a USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone, ultimately causing the drone to crash into the Black Sea. Screen-grab from Reaper footage.
Russian authorities said the aircraft did not use weapons and denied that its aircraft had come into contact with the drone.
The Russians said the crash was caused by as a result of “sharp manoeuvring”.
“The Russian fighters did not use their onboard weapons, did not come into contact with the [drone], and returned safely to their home airfield,” a Russian Defence ministry spokesperson said.
They also said the drone had been flying near Crimean Peninsula without activating its transponders, which allow aircraft to be detected and tracked.
Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov described the US drone flight as a “provocation” and argued that there was no reason for US military aircraft to be near Russia’s borders [except maybe spying in support of the war in Ukraine?].
However, the Russians didn’t take into account the fact that an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance MQ-9 is festooned with cameras.
The Pentagon quickly released video evidence of the incident to show what really happened – although the footage has been declassified and edited for length, with assurance that the events are depicted in sequential order.
In the footage one much faster (than MQ-9) Russian Su-27 makes an approach to the drone in an attempt to dumped fuel over it.
The drone makes an evasive manoeuvre, making the Su-27’s approach difficult, and the fuel-cloud evidently misses.
The second Russian fighter comes in at high differential speed to try the same fuel-dumping tactic.
This time, the combination of speed differential and the drone’s “sharp manoeuvring” seems to have caused the two aircraft to collide – evidenced in the final part of the video by the appearance of a severely disfigured propellor blade.
The MQ-9 was thus rendered powerless, causing US forces to decide to bring it down [presumably hard, to cause as much destruction as possible, lest the Russians attempt to recover (which they did) and examine the technology] in international waters.
EDITOR’S NOTE: My favourite comment from Facebook – “God damn it Maverick – this is why we don’t fly below the hard deck!!!”