New Video Shows Russian Fighter Jet Buzzing US Drone Over Black Sea

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Two Russian Su-27 aircraft intercept a U.S. Air Force drone over the Black Sea.
Two Russian Su-27 aircraft intercept a U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft operating within international airspace over the Black Sea on March 14, 2023. (Screenshot from U.S. Air Force video)

Newly released U.S. video shows the moment a Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea this week.

Russian jets can be seen directly approaching and apparently dumping fuel twice on the U.S. drone as it flew over international waters Monday, according to the Pentagon, which released the declassified video. The drone's video feed is knocked out briefly and then shows a damaged propeller.

The images add credibility to the U.S. claims that Russian forces harassed the surveillance drone, causing a collision that forced the unmanned aircraft down into the ocean, where it may be unrecoverable. The incident near Crimea further ratcheted up tensions amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the U.S.-led international effort to oppose it.

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    "As far as an act of war goes, I'm not going to go there. Incidents happen, and clearly we do not seek armed conflict with Russia," Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said during a press conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday. "And I believe that, at this point, we should investigate this incident and move on from there, but we will continue to exercise our rights in international airspace."

    The Pentagon has often criticized Russia for unsafe or reckless behavior in the air around U.S. forces in different parts of the world. But the incident Monday was unique for being so close to the brutal fighting in Ukraine and also resulting in the loss of an American aircraft, though it was unmanned.

    The drone belonged to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and was part of routine operations, the Pentagon's top spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said Tuesday. The Black Sea is bordered by Russia and Ukraine, but also other nations such as Turkey, which is a fellow member of NATO.

    The damaged MQ-9 was piloted into the sea, where it likely broke apart and sank to a depth of 4,000 to 5,000 feet. Any valuable intelligence had been "mitigated," Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the briefing Wednesday, but it remained unclear whether the U.S. would be able to salvage the wreckage.

    "Any recovery operation is very difficult at that depth by anyone. That's the first point," Milley said. "Secondly, it is true, we don't have any ships there. But we do have a lot of allies and friends in the area. We will work through recovery operations. That's U.S. property."

    The head of Russia's security council claimed Tuesday that the encounter was evidence that the U.S. was directly involved in the war in Ukraine and said that Moscow would attempt to recover the downed MQ-9.

    The U.S. has sent about $35 billion in security aid to Ukraine and helped train its military -- but has refrained from any direct involvement in the conflict -- since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of the country in February 2022 in one of the most brazen land grabs by a major power in the region since World War II.

    Ukrainian forces, backed by the West, have so far fended off Russia's larger military despite shelling of civilians in cities and attacks on utilities during the colder winter months.

    -- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

    Related: Pentagon Unsure It Can Recover Drone Downed by Russia

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