The U.S. military’s European Command has released video footage of an encounter between an American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone and a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea that occurred last Tuesday.
Newly declassified, the video shows 43 seconds of the encounter, which lasted nearly 40 minutes according to the Department of Defense.
The video opens with the MQ-9’s underside camera facing backward as a Russian Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jet rapidly approaches the starboard side of the drone. As the Russian fighter draws closer, it is seen releasing a stream of jet fuel while dramatically overtaking the unarmed drone.
In another portion of the video, a Russian fighter jet is again seen flying toward the starboard side of the MQ-9. In this second pass, the Russian fighter approaches at a much lower altitude than the first pass, with the fighter appearing to make a steep angled climb as it nears the U.S. surveillance drone.
Once again the fighter is seen dumping jet fuel during its approach. However, as the jet overtakes the MQ-9, the drone’s video feed is suddenly disrupted, and the image becomes pixelated into color bars.
After several seconds, the video feed returns, with the camera facing backward and revealing apparent damage to the MQ-9’s rear propeller. At least one of the propeller blades appears to be bent, damage that was clearly not present in the earlier segment of the video.
According to U.S. officials, with the propeller damaged, drone operators effectively glided the unmanned drone into a descent, ultimately bringing it down in international waters southwest of Russian-occupied Crimea.
Russia has denied that its fighter came in contact with the MQ-9 and any responsibility for its subsequent crash. Essentially suggesting the drone was out of control and fell out of the sky. “The U.S. drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude and fell into the water,” read a statement issued by Russia’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday.
So far, Moscow has not commented on the Pentagon’s release of the drone footage, which very clearly disputes Russian MoD’s earlier denials. Russia has, however, made it clear that it intends to recover the wreckage of the downed U.S. military drone.
Citing U.S. officials, CNN reported that any sensitive software had been wiped from the drone before it crashed into the water to mitigate the risk of classified materials falling into enemy hands.
During a White House press conference, National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. had “made it impossible for them to be able to glean anything of intelligence value off the remnants of that drone, whatever remnants there might be on the surface of the water.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing typically focuses on defense, national security, the Intelligence Community and topics related to psychology. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or through encrypted email: LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com