KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Pentagon on Thursday released footage of what it said was a Russian aircraft pouring fuel on a U.S. Air Force surveillance drone and clipping the drone’s propeller in international airspace over the Black Sea.
The 42-second video shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said. Dumping the fuel appeared to be aimed at blinding its optical instruments and driving it out of the area.
On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian fighter that had been shadowing the MQ-9 struck the drone’s propeller, damaging one blade, according to the U.S. military.
The Russians denied hitting the drone and said it fell out of the sky after making a turn.
But there is a pressing question that remains unanswered: what will become of the downed Reaper and its highly classified payload? According to the NSC’s Kirby, the US is not confident it will be able to successfully find wreckage in the Black Sea.
“I’m not sure we are going to be able to recover it,” US National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told CNN This Morning.
Russia has signaled its intention to find the wreckage first. And Moscow’s Navy has several ships in the Black Sea, including ships based in Crimean ports, which would have placed them in an advantageous position to attempt to recover the US MQ-9 Reaper drone after its encounter with Russian fighter jets on Tuesday.
The drone came down in international waters in the Black Sea approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea, one of the officials said. It is unclear if Russia was able to recover any of the wreckage from the drone when they arrived at the crash site.