US drone hit by Russian pilot ‘sank to an unrecoverable depth’

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Camera footage release from U.S. Air Force MQ-9 interaction with Russian SU-27 in Black Sea EUCOM

US drone hit by Russian pilot ‘sank to an unrecoverable depth’

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The U.S. military is not actively trying to recover the Air Force’s MQ-9 unmanned aircraft that was downed into the Black Sea after being hit by a Russian aircraft last week.

Two Russian pilots flew recklessly and dangerously close to the U.S. drone over the Black Sea, dumping fuel on it multiple times, before one of them ultimately flew into the drone’s propeller last Tuesday, U.S. military officials explained in its aftermath. The U.S. military was forced to crash land the drone into the Black Sea, about 75 miles southwest of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, but they were able to wipe it of sensitive data.

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“There are not any ongoing recovery efforts as the MQ-9 sank to an unrecoverable depth in the Black Sea,” a U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa spokesperson told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. “However, we took mitigating measures to secure and wipe all sensitive data from the aircraft prior to the crash to prevent anyone from obtaining any intelligence of value if they were to recover the plane.”

Russian officials have said they want to recover the $32 million aircraft, and a U.S. official told CNN they’ve been able to discover small bits of the MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters on Tuesday, “It’s our estimation that the MQ-9, when it crashed, went very deep and has not been recovered,” adding, “As far as the Russians go and the MQ-9, again, we’d seen press reports that they may have picked up some surface debris. We can’t corroborate those reports.”

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday, “We warn them against trying to play on the nerves, testing our patience,” according to Russian state media, Ria.

Last week, Gen. Mark Milley said the drone “probably broke up” and that there’s “probably not a lot to recover, frankly.” He said at the time that the debris “probably sank to some significant depths.”

The Russian ministry had denied hitting the drone, though days later, U.S. European Command released footage of the incident. The video is from a camera on the MQ-9 drone pointed backward toward its tail and the drone’s propeller. In the video, a Russian Su-27 approached the rear of the drone and began to release fuel as it passed. And on the next pass, as the Russian jet quickly approached, the video feed cut out for 60 seconds, EUCOM said, which occurred following impact. Once the camera resumed its video feed, the propeller appeared to be damaged.

U.S. and Russian defense leaders spoke following the incident.

“Now, I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu, and as I’ve said repeatedly, it’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a press briefing last week. “And the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”

This type of dangerous behavior from Russian pilots is becoming more common, and the Defense Ministry awarded the pilots involved in the incident. This is the first time a Russian pilot has crashed into a U.S. drone.

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“This hazardous episode is part of a pattern of aggressive, risky, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace,” Austin added.

Russia, earlier this week, scrambled a Su-35 fighter in response to two B-52s that were conducting a long-range Bomber Task Force mission with NATO allies and partners in Estonian airspace. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said the U.S. pilots were “targets flying in the direction of the State Border of the Russian Federation,” while U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said they remained at least 50 nautical miles from Russian airspace.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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