The U.S. military has released footage that depicts a portion of the Tuesday encounter between two Russian fighter jet pilots and the U.S. drone they forced down.
The newly declassified video, which U.S. European Command released early Thursday, depicts critical moments in the mid-air incident that resulted in the downing of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 unmanned aircraft.
RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT COLLIDES WITH UNMANNED US DRONE OVER THE BLACK SEA
The video is from a camera on the MQ-9 Reaper drone pointed backward toward its tail and the drone’s propeller, which is actively turning at the beginning of the clip. A Russian Su-27 approached the rear of the drone and began to release fuel as it passed the unmanned drone. The feed is briefly disrupted as the Russian fighter jet passed over the drone while continuing to release fuel. When it comes back seconds later, the propeller was visible and appeared undamaged.
A Russian jet came back for another approach, once again releasing fuel as it got closer to the drone. This time, however, as the Russian jet got close, the video feed cut out for 60 seconds, EUCOM said, which occurred following impact. Once the camera resumed its video feed, the propeller appears damaged.
The military was then forced to essentially crash land the drone into the Black Sea, but not before they were able to wipe it of sensitive data, should it fall into the wrong hands, though they are hoping to recover it themselves.
"It probably broke up, probably not a lot to recover, frankly," Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Wednesday briefing. "As far as the loss of anything of sensitive intelligence, etc., as normal we would take, and we did take, mitigating measures. So we are quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value."
He also said it’ll take days for them to figure out whether the military will be able to recover it because the debris “probably sank to some significant depths," while Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said Russia will try to get the wreckage of the drone themselves.
This type of behavior from Russian pilots is becoming more common, though this is the first time a Russian pilot has crashed into a U.S. drone. Noting as much, Milley said it's clear the Russian pilot intentionally intercepted the U.S. drone, but it remains unclear if the pilot intended to strike it.
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"This hazardous episode is part of a pattern of aggressive, risky, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace," U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a Wednesday press conference.
Austin and Milley had conversations on Wednesday with their Russian counterparts, though neither office provided details of their respective conversations. The U.S. also summoned Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, though he rebuked the allegation, while U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy conveyed a similar message to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.