April 20, 2024

A Russian Fighter Jet Destroyed a US Drone by Dropping Bulbs on it

  • A Russian fighter jet flew “dangerously close” to a US military drone over Syria, the Air Force said.
  • The Su-35 harassed the MQ-9 Reaper drone by dropping flares in its path, damaging the propeller.
  • This is the latest incident of aggressive Russian aircraft maneuvers over the Middle East.

A Russian fighter jet recently flew “dangerously close” to a US military combat drone operating over Syria and harassed the unmanned aircraft with flares, the US Air Force said on Tuesday. This incident represents the latest manifestation of aggressive behavior by Moscow pilots in the region.

Just before 12:30 am local time on Sunday, the Russian Su-35 aircraft contacted the US MQ-9 Reaper drone as it was on a mission against the Islamic State. After positioning itself a few meters directly above the Reaper, the Su-35 deployed several flares – one of which hit the drone and “significantly” damaged its propeller, the Air Force said in a statement.

“Fortunately, the MQ-9 crew was able to maintain flight and recover the aircraft safely to its home base,” the Air Force said, without revealing any further details about the anti-ISIS mission.

Unclassified video of the incident released by the Air Force shows the Su-35 approaching the MQ-9 from behind, coming close enough at one point that the Russian pilot’s face is visible in images from the incident. Later in the video, the fighter jet can be seen releasing several flares. Photos released by the US military also show damage to the propeller.

“The Russian fighter’s blatant disregard for flight safety detracts from our mission to ensure that ISIS wins,” said Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of the US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) in a statement on Tuesday. “We call on the Russian forces in Syria to immediately end this reckless, unprofessional and unprofessional behavior.”

Moscow pilots have carried out aggressive maneuvers around US military aircraft operating over Syria several times during July. The first week of the month saw three straight days of harassment, in which Russian aircraft dropped parachute flares, engaged in afterfire, and flew close to several MQ-9 Reaper drones.

A Russian fighter flies dangerously close to a US MQ-9 before deploying flares from directly above the MQ-9 drone on a counter-ISIS mission in Syria July 23, 2023

A Russian fighter flies dangerously close to a US MQ-9 before deploying flares from directly above the MQ-9 drone on a counter-ISIS mission in Syria July 23, 2023

United States Air Force photo

The bullying wasn’t limited to American assets either. Two French fighter jets on a security mission earlier this month were forced to maneuver to avoid “unprofessional interaction” from a Russian Su-35.

Recently, the Air Force said in mid-July that a Russian aircraft engaged a US MC-12 surveillance plane “in an unsafe and unprofessional manner.” The MC-12 was forced to fly through turbulence after the Russian aircraft, which prevented the crew from operating the plane and put their lives at risk.

Washington has focused more attention in recent months on dangerous actions by Russian pilots, accusing Moscow of interfering with American interests and assets in Syria, where the US has about 900 troops deployed to carry out missions against ISIS. US officials have regularly blasted the Kremlin over several reckless incidents, warning that the interactions are disrupting counterterrorism operations.

Damage to the Reaper's drone propeller.

Damage to the Reaper’s drone propeller.

United States Air Force photo

A Pentagon spokesman said earlier this month that Russia, which backs the Assad regime in its ongoing civil war, knows exactly where US aircraft are operating, so there is “no excuse” for the ongoing harassment. “It’s almost as if the Russians are now on a mission to protect ISIS leaders,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.

After one Russian harassment incident on July 7 that lasted several hours, several Reaper drones later carried out a strike in eastern Syria that killed an ISIS leader. It’s unclear how, exactly, Russia’s involvement might affect the counterterrorism mission, but US military leaders seem to have had enough.

“Russia’s unsafe and unprofessional conduct in the air not only degrades our mission to engage ISIS, it risks an unexpected escalation and miscalculation,” the Gen said. Michael Kurilla, commander of United States Central Command, said after Sunday’s incident.

The recent engagement is also not the first time a Reaper drone’s propeller has been damaged by Russian harassment of aircraft. A Russian Su-27 fighter jet clipped the propeller of an MQ-9 while operating over the Black Sea in March, forcing the US military to bring the aircraft down to international waters and raising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

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