Pentagon releases video footage of Russian jet dumping fuel on, colliding with U.S. drone over Black Sea

March 17, 2023

On Tuesday, there was a reported incident in international airspace above the Black Sea in which a Russian fighter jet collided with a U.S. unmanned drone that ultimately resulted in that drone crashing into the waters below.

Just two days later, the Defense Department released a declassified video clip of that incident that was derived from the drone's own camera footage, the Tampa Free Press reported.

The video clip shows a Russian Su-27 jet making two close passes of the MQ-9 drone, dumping fuel on the unmanned craft each time, and actually striking the drone and causing damage on the second pass.

Russian jets intercept, collide with U.S. drone over Black Sea

The incident was first revealed in a press release on Tuesday from U.S. European Command about the "unsafe and unprofessional intercept" of the U.S. MQ-9 drone by a pair of Russian Su-27 jets while the drone flew a routine "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" mission over the Black Sea, which lies south of Russia and Ukraine.

The release noted that the drone was intentionally brought down by the U.S. in international waters after its propeller was damaged in the collision with the Russian jet, and further pointed out that just prior to that 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 Gen. James B. Hecker, the commander of all USAF assets in Europe and Africa, said in a statement, "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."

"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."

Drone footage of incident declassified and released

On Thursday, U.S. EUCOM released a declassified video clip of the incident along with a brief description of what occurred, with the Russian jet twice approaching the U.S. drone from the rear while dumping fuel on it and actually colliding with it on the second pass.

The first pass caused a brief disruption of the video feed but it was clear that the drone was undamaged at that time once the feed resumed. On the second pass, however, the video feed cut out for around 60 seconds before finally resuming and showing that the drone's rear propeller had been damaged in the collision.

According to Task & Purpose, the Russian jets had been loitering around the U.S. drone for approximately 30-40 minutes before the collision occurred, and the drone was later deliberately crashed into the Black Sea by the U.S. once it was determined that the damage done to the propeller had rendered it uncontrollable.

Few other details released

Also on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder held a briefing in which he fielded numerous questions about the declassified video and the incident itself, and though he often declined to get too specific with details in his replies, he nonetheless provided some important information to the media and American public.

Asked about Russian efforts to recover the downed drone and whether anything of value could be gained from the wreckage, Gen. Ryder said, "One, the fact -- and I -- and I'm not going to go into details, but that we took steps to protect information aboard that aircraft; and two, the fact that it crashed in extremely deep water. And so, you know, I'll just leave it at that."

As for whether the collision was intentional, the general said that was unknown, "But it clearly demonstrates either poor airmanship or reckless behavior, because just from an airman standpoint, why would you hit another aircraft with your aircraft in the sky," and added, "And so, again, reckless, dangerous, unsafe, unprofessional behavior, which is why, again, we have called on the Russians to conduct their operations safely and professionally."

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