The Russian aircraft struck the RPA’s propeller forcing the U.S. to bring the Reaper down in international waters.
A Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet and a US MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft were involved in an inflight collision over the Black Sea earlier today, according to the statement released by the US European Command, causing the unmanned aircraft to ditch in international waters. The mishap happened as two Russian fighters performed an “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept targeting the drone as it was operating in international airspace.
The statement says that, at approximately 7:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9 RPA, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. EUCOM says that several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner”, demonstrating “a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional”.
“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,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
The press release did not state if the MQ-9 will be recovered, while it states that US and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and called for the Russian pilots to conduct themselves professionally and safely. In the past, other “unprofessional” intercept over the Black Sea saw Russian fighters closing in within meters from US aircraft and even crossing paths, but collisions were always avoided by the crews. EUCOM says that such episodes are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.
It is not known from where the MQ-9 was launched for the mission. The US have MQ-9s forward deployed to NAS Sigonella (Italy), Miroslawiec AB (Poland), Campia Turzii (Romania) and recently Larissa Air Base (Greece). The RPAs routinely depart their bases to perform missions over the Black Sea, together with the larger RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Several ISR aircraft were operating in the region when the “close encounter” occurred. Among them, the Italian Air Force G550 CAEW of the Task Group “Argo” deployed to Romania.
-Italian Air Force G550AEW PERSEO71
-RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint RRR7214
-US Navy P8 Poseidon AE678F pic.twitter.com/qOW4JdzMhk
— Manu Gómez (@GDarkconrad) March 14, 2023
At the time of writing, a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon is flying over the Romanian coastline: its presence there can be related to the recovery of the Reaper drone.
US Navy (🇺🇸) P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft orbiting above eastern Romania (🇷🇴).
— Aerospace Intelligence (@space_osint) March 14, 2023
Interestingly, as the news of the collision was released, the Italian MOD posted a tweet about the latest QRA launch of the Eurofighter Typhoons supporting NATO enhanced Air Policing Area-South, from Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, Costanta, Romania. At the moment we are unable to confirm whether the Italian aircraft were scrambled to respond to the Russian Su-27 activity near the MQ-9 or not.
Task Force Air Gladiator #Romania
Op. enhanced #AirPolicing a tutela dello spazio aereo #NATO#Scramble per gli #Eurofighter dell’#AeronauticaMilitare che hanno sorvegliato l’attività di velivoli non identificati#WeAreNATO #StrongerTogether #ForzeArmate🇮🇹 #UnaForzaperiPaese pic.twitter.com/xvomqBVRSY
— Forze Armate StatoMaggioreDifesa (@SM_Difesa) March 14, 2023