Russia Shoots Down US Drone MQ-9 Reaper over Black Sea
The $32 million MQ-9 Reaper drone downed in the Black Sea after a run-in with Russian fighter jets on Tuesday is the same type of aircraft used by the CIA to kill Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in July, 2022.
Equipped for long-range surveillance missions, the unmanned spy aircraft is controlled by two pilots on the ground – sometimes as much as 5,000 miles away -can fly for 20 hours, or 1,150 miles, and pick up intelligence from an altitude of up to 52,000 ft.
Pentagon officials said one was taken out of the sky by an ‘unsafe and unprofessional intercept’ by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets early Tuesday.
The encounter sent shockwaves around the world and has sparked a blame game between Washington and the Kremlin over who was responsible.
As tensions escalated, NATO fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian planes over the Black Sea on Wednesday.
Sometimes used for deadly, precision strikes, the drones can reach speeds of between 200 and 300 mph, and are armed with Hellfire missiles.
The explosives in the missiles are often swapped with switchblades to kill targets with such accuracy they can hit someone sitting in a particular seat in a car.
When modified, the missiles have been nicknamed the ‘flying Ginsu’ or the ‘Ninja bomb’.
In total, eight laser-guided missiles and 16 Hellfire missiles can be loaded on board with 1,300 pounds of fuel.
The Pentagon has not confirmed if the drone was armed when the Russian fighter jet collided with it, but it was likely carrying out a reconnaissance mission.
Gen. James B. Hecker said on Tuesday it was ‘conducting routine operations in international airspace’.
The Reapers have long been conducting operations in the region, and could have been flown out of countries including Romania or the Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy.
They are primarily used to conduct surveillance – with infrared systems and cameras – and for search-and-rescue missions.
In recent years the drones have flown over Iraq and Syria and have been used in Afghanistan in the almost 18 months since American ground troops left.
They are manufactured by General Atomics, and the Air Force has ordered 360 to be built since 2007.
Pentagon officials said the Russian fighters harassed the drone by dumping fuel on it and flying in front of it, before one Su-27 clipped the propeller of the drone, forcing it down over the Black Sea in a total loss of the unmanned aircraft.
‘This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,’ said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder in a press briefing.
In a statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry denied colliding with the US drone, saying the American aircraft went into ‘uncontrolled flight’ due to ‘sharp maneuvering’.
The incident happened in international airspace, but not far from the battles raging on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident, said White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby, who slammed Russia’s actions as reckless and dangerous.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the US drone was flying toward its airspace with its transponder turned off, and the Russian fighters were dispatched to investigate.
‘Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons and did not come into contact with the American drone,’ the ministry said in a statement.
‘Due to sharp maneuvering, the American drone went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,’ the statement added.