Military Aviation

Pentagon releases USAF MQ-9 camera footage of Russian Su-27 Black Sea Intercept

The declassified footage shows a Russian Su-27 aircraft conducting an unsafe/unprofessional intercept of a USAF MQ-9 in international airspace over the Black Sea, on Mar. 14, 2023.

The video in this post was released by US European Command on Mar. 16, 2023.

According to a US European Command news release the declassified footage shows a Russian Su-27 (NATO reporting name: Flanker) aircraft conducting an unsafe/unprofessional intercept of a US Air Force (USAF) MQ-9 in international airspace over the Black Sea, Mar. 14. In addition to the footage, a storyboard of the events with declassified stills from the MQ-9 footage is also released.

The following is a summary of the video:

00:00: [Start of video] A Russian Su-27 approaches to the rear of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9.

00:05: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel as it passes. 00:09 A Russian Su-27 passes over the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 while releasing fuel. As the Su-27 passes over the top of the MQ-9, it also disrupts the video transmission.

00:11: The propeller of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 can be seen and remains undamaged.

00:22: A Russian Su-27 begins a second approach toward the MQ-9.

00:27: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel on the approach toward the MQ-9. The Su-27 proceeds to pass even closer.

00:29: A Russian Su-27 collides with the MQ-9 and the MQ-9’s camera feed is lost for approximately 60 seconds.

00:39: The MQ-9’s camera feed has returned to working order. At this time the propeller can be seen again and one of the props can be seen damaged.

00:42: [End of video]

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According to US European Command on Mar. 14, 2023 two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea today.

At approximately 7:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. 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. This incident demonstrates 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.”

“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added.

This incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea. These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.

US Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa routinely fly aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with applicable host nation and international laws. In order to bolster collective European defense and security, these missions support Allied, partner, and U.S. national objectives.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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