The Russian pilots of two Su-27 fighter jets that destroyed a US drone have been honored by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The $32 million MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday after being intercepted by the two Russian fighter jets, in what US officials say was a deliberate act, possibly in an attempt to seize its data.
The US is in a race against time to recover the Reaper before it falls into the hands of Moscow. However, Russia appears poised to win the race as Putin’s salvage ships are already operating off the coast of Crimea.
Telegram channels indicate that special vessels Fizik and Professor Vodyanitskiy were both sailing to or near the Black Sea wreck’s suspected location.
It comes after a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry claimed Kremlin forces found the downed Reaper drone at a depth of up to 2,953 feet in the Black Sea off the main naval port of Sevastopol.
And today the Russian Defense Ministry said Shoigu had awarded prizes to the pilots who destroyed the US drone.
The Russian pilots of two Su-27 fighter jets that destroyed a US drone have been honored by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Pictured: An image from the drone shows the Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper
However, it seems that Russia will win the race to find the surveillance drone, as Putin’s Black Sea fleet of salvage vessels operates off the coast of Crimea today. Pictured: the Prof Vodyanitskiy research vessel in Russia, said to be part of the search for the drone
Telegram channels indicate that special vessels Fizik (pictured in a file photo) and Professor Vodyanitskiy were both heading to or near the Black Sea wreck’s suspected location
In announcing the awards, the ministry repeated the Russian version of events – strongly disputed by Washington, which has released footage of the crash – that the Russian planes made no physical contact with the drone.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering around 9:30 a.m. (Moscow time), the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle entered an uncontrolled loss of altitude flight and collided with the water surface,” the message said.
The Russian ministry said the drone flew with transponders disabled and violated airspace restrictions that Russia had made public in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Washington has previously rejected and said these claims two Russian Su-27 fighters intercepted the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper on a reconnaissance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace.
Before that, the Su-27s dumped fuel on the MQ-9 and flew ahead of it several times for 30 to 40 minutes in “a reckless, environmentally unfriendly and unprofessional manner,” the US European Command said.
Drone camera footage released yesterday by the Biden administration showed the terrifying confrontation.
The released 42-second color footage from the US military shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the rear of the MQ-9 Reaper drone and releasing fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said. The fuel dump appeared to be intended to blind the drone’s optical instruments to drive it out of the area.
On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian Su-27 that had been shadowing the MQ-9 hit the drone’s propeller, damaging a blade, according to the US military, which said it then launched the plane into the sea traps.
The video fragment does not show the collision, but does show the damage to the propeller.
Now Russian naval salvage ships are searching for the destroyed drone in the Black Sea.
The salvage activity came after a source close to Russia’s defense ministry reportedly told Crimean publication ForPost that an underwater robot found the drone at depths of up to 953 feet in the Black Sea.
The source reportedly said, “An underwater robot descended to the seabed and detected the MQ-9 Reaper at a depth of about 850-900 meters.
“The deepwater branch of the South Stream gas pipeline runs not far from this area.”
Russian media claimed that Kremlin forces found the downed US drone near the port
US officials said the MQ-9 Reaper drone was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 jets that dumped fuel on the drone before clipping the propeller and forcing it to crash
The $32 million US Reaper drone has been taken down by Russia
The report said Russian naval forces are “on duty in the area where the US military reconnaissance vehicle fell.”
However, there was no official confirmation of the report.
The research vessel Fizik, built in Turkey, is equipped with cranes, but the ship, which had left the Sevastopol naval port, later returned, reports said.
It remained in Russian territorial waters while the Reaper allegedly fell in international waters, according to the US.
The Professor Vodyanitskiy — a scientific research vessel equipped with laboratories, seismic sensors, an echo sounder, an underwater camera and other advanced search systems — remained at sea, reports said.
Earlier, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the UAV may never be recovered from the crash site, admitting that the Reaper’s wreckage is still in the Black Sea.
The Pentagon also insisted that parts could not be recovered and that all information had been erased.
Russia and NATO member states routinely intercept each other’s warplanes, but Tuesday’s incident was the first time since the Cold War that a US plane has crashed in such an encounter, raising concerns that it may be moving the United States and Russia closer to direct conflict. could bring.
The MQ-9, which has a wingspan of 20 meters, includes a ground station and satellite equipment. It can carry ammunition, but Air Force Brig. General Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, would not say whether the dumped drone was armed.