US releases video of Reaper surveillance drone allegedly intercepted by Russian fighter jet over Black Sea

US releases video of Reaper surveillance drone allegedly intercepted by Russian fighter jet over Black Sea

Friday 17/03/2023
The Pentagon released images of the drone's damaged propeller, which it said resulted from the collision.(Reuters: US European Command/The Pentagon/Handout)

Footage of a Russian aircraft allegedly conducting an unsafe intercept of a US Air Force surveillance drone in international airspace over the Black Sea has been released by the Pentagon.

The 42-second video, released Thursday morning local time, shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said.

The US military said it ditched the MQ-9 Reaper in the sea after the Russian fighter jet poured fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle and then struck its propeller.

In the video, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet comes very close to the US MQ-9 drone and dumps fuel near it, in what US officials said was an apparent effort to damage the American aircraft as it flew over the Black Sea.

The video also showed the loss of the video feed after another close Russian manoeuvre, which the Pentagon said resulted from the Russian jet's collision with the drone.

It ended with images of the drone's damaged propeller, which the Pentagon said resulted from the collision, making the aircraft inoperable.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the destruction of the US drone following the encounter with Russian fighter jets.

In remarks to reporters on Wednesday, General Milley said it was clear the intercept and harassment of the drone by Russian jets was intentional.

However, he said it was unclear whether the Russian pilots meant to slam their aircraft into the drone — a move that could also put the Russian aircraft at risk.

The calls with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov on Wednesday were the first since October.

While intercept attempts are not uncommon, the incident amid the war in Ukraine has raised concerns it could bring the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict.

That the two countries's top defence and military leaders were talking so soon after the encounter over the Black Sea underscored its seriousness.

The Pentagon said the video had been edited by the US military for length but showed events in a sequential order.

Russia likely trying to recover US drone debris

On Thursday, the Pentagon said Russia was likely trying to recover the debris from the downed US drone, even as it played down Moscow's prospects for success.

"We do have indications that Russia is likely making an effort to try to recover MQ-9 debris … however, we assess it's very unlikely that they would be able to recover anything useful," said Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson.

A US official — speaking on condition of anonymity — said Russian ships had been seen near the area where the drone had crashed, although they did not appear to have recovered any parts of the drone yet.

It was not clear if the ships were still in the area.

Earlier, General Milley told reporters at a press briefing that it was likely that the drone broke apart upon impact in the Black Sea, and with a depth of up to 1,524 metres of water, and would be difficult to recover.

"There's probably not a lot to recover, frankly, as far as the loss of anything of sensitive intelligence, etcetera. As normal, we would take, and we did take, mitigating measures," General Milley said.

"So we are quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value."

On Wednesday, Kremlin Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said Russia would try to recover what was left of the drone.

"I don’t know if we can recover them or not ... I certainly hope for success," Mr Patrushev said.

Story By: ABC/wires

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