Military Aviation

US Reveals that a Russian SA-22 Pantsir surface-to-air missile damaged MQ-9 Drone over Syria

In November 2022 a Russian surface-to-air missile came close to striking an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over Syria, passing and detonating within 40 feet and damaging the aircraft.

US official told to Air & Space Forces Magazine that in November 2022 a Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) came close to striking an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over Syria, passing and detonating within 40 feet and damaging the aircraft.

The US had already revealed that a Russian SA-22 Pantsir SAM was fired against the drone on Nov. 27 but did not disclose the damage or how close the missile came to downing the aircraft. The MQ-9 was able to return to base and land safely.

In what remains the only publicly known instance of a Russian SAM firing at a US aircraft over Syria, the damage resulted when the missile’s warhead exploded in close proximity to the drone. American officials said there have been no other similar missile firings at an MQ-9 over the country since then.

Other US officials acknowledged to Air & Space Forces Magazine the missile came close to hitting the drone, missing by only a few dozen feet. The MQ-9 itself is 36 feet long, with a span of 66 feet.

A 361st Expeditionary Attack Squadron MQ-9 Reaper and a 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II on a flight line at an undisclosed location, Southwest Asia, Dec. 10, 2022, as part of a Forward Arming and Refueling Point mission. 

The Pentagon referred questions about the incident to US Central Command, which declined to comment on the new details.
US military officials contacted Russia after the November incident via a deconfliction line maintained by the two countries’ militaries.

The disclosure of more details about the November episode comes against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive behavior by Russian pilots in the skies over Syria, according to US officials.

The US and Russia have established deconfliction protocols to prevent run-ins between their aircraft. But Air Forces Central says Russian warplanes have repeatedly violated that agreement, doing so more than 80 times since Mar. 1, including more than two dozen armed overflights of US troops.

In actions that US officials call dangerous, Russian aircraft have also come within 500 feet of American planes during the same period. “Russia might be trying to engender an international incident,” one US official said.

“We’re not seeking to get into a conflict with Russia, nor are we looking to divert attention from why it is that we’re there,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said on Apr. 27.

A still of the Pentagon video showing a Russian Su-27 dumping fuel in front of a USAF MQ-9 over the Black Sea on Mar. 14, 2023

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

One of the Su-27s struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. According to a video released by US European Command on Mar. 16 [CLICK HERE to watch the footage], 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 followed a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US 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.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Jim Bentley / U.S. Air Force

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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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