The collision damaged the propeller of the U.S. drone, which forced the operators to bring down the Reaper in international waters.
The Air Force also labeled the aggressive actions by Russian aircrew “dangerous,” and warned that it could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.
“At approximately 7:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. 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. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” U.S. Air Force U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa (EUCOM) said in the statement.
Too Close Encounter
According to EUCOM, a pair of Russian Su-27 fighters approached the drone over international waters west of Crimea.
The 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,” EUCOM also noted.
“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 U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander EUCOM.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” he added. “U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely.”
U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa routinely fly aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with the applicable host nation and international laws.
In order to bolster collective European defense and security, these missions support Allied, partner, and U.S. national objectives.
Since late 2021, the U.S. has positioned an aircraft carrier in the nearby Mediterranean and stepped up flights along NATO’s eastern flank along with U.S. Air Force and allied aircraft, CNN reported.
The Flanker is a fighter aircraft designed for air superiority missions. While different variants of the aircraft sometimes include updated or different equipment and systems, there are several traits that are largely constant. With a single seat for one pilot, the Su-27 is propelled by two turbofan AL-31F engines, which help give the Flanker a range of more than 2,200 miles.
Designed to be a follow-up to the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry a great deal of ordnance, which allows it to fulfill the “hunter” component of a hunter-killer drone.
Reapers can carry double the amount of Hellfire missiles that the Predator could carry, while the MQ-9 can also carry up to 500 pounds of bombs.
Even as the U.S. Air Force seeks to develop more autonomous and capable drones, the MQ-9 has continued to be updated and enhanced.
In addition, the recent conflicts have shown how teams must work with, and recover the drones.
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Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.