On Thursday morning U.S. European Command (EUCOM) released video footage from the MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed into the Black Sea following a mid-air encounter with two Russian Su-27 “Flanker” aircraft that resulted in a collision on March 14.
The footage captures the exact moment one of the Su-27s closed with and hit the propeller of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 unmanned aircraft. According to an emailed statement from EUCOM, the declassified video “has been edited for length, however, the events are depicted in sequential order.”
The video begins with an Su-27 approaching the MQ-9 from the rear, at which point plumes of white and grey can be seen to pour from the Su-27 as it releases fuel during its pass, according to a breakdown of the video by U.S. European Command. As the Russian fighter crosses over the MQ-9, the video transmission cuts out briefly. During this pass, the propeller can still be seen to be intact.
However, a few moments later a Russian Su-27 — it’s unclear if this is the same one or the second Russian aircraft — begins to approach the MQ-9 Reaper and once again, fuel is seen being released as it nears the drone. However, on this pass, the Russian Su-27 collides with the MQ-9 and the feed cuts out. According to EUCOM, the feed was lost for roughly a minute. When it returns, the propeller can be seen again, yet one of the props appears to be damaged, presumably a result of the collision.
As Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol previously reported, the incident took place after a pair of Russian Su-27s conducted an unsafe intercept in what U.S. European Command said was international airspace.
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The Russian aircraft loitered near the U.S. drone for approximately 30 to 40 minutes before one of the Su-27s collided with the propeller, at which point the unmanned aircraft was rendered uncontrollable and the U.S. military made the decision to crash the drone into the Black Sea.
Russia has occupied Crimea as well as other swathes of Ukrainian territory that border the Black Sea since 2014, however, the Reaper was “well clear of the territory of Ukraine” and operating in international airspace at the time of the interception, Air Force Brig. Gen Patrick Ryder told reporters on Tuesday.
“In terms of the mission of the MQ-9, it’s an ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platform,” Ryder said at Tuesday’s news conference. “These aircraft have been flying over the Black Sea region for some time, to include before the current conflict started. It is an important and busy waterway, and so it is not an uncommon mission for us to be flying in international airspace.”
According to a March 14 statement from EUCOM, “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. These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
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