MQ-9 Reaper Drone Again Confronts Russian Military In Syria; Comes After ‘Downing’ Of US UAV By Su-27 Fighter

As tensions continue to escalate between Russia and the United States in the Syrian battleground, Russian troops have now lambasted their American counterparts for sending combat drones like the MQ-9 Reaper toward Russian positions.

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On June 29, a high-ranking Russian official said that the Russian Armed Forces had observed ten violations of the flight of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to the “international anti-terrorist coalition” led by the US during the day in Syria.

The announcement was made by Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, the Deputy Head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties and Controlling the Movement of Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic (CPVS).

“There was a case of an MQ-9 Reaper UAV approaching Russian troops in the area of ​​the Qvayres airfield in the province of Aleppo,” according to the Russian forces stationed in Syria.

The statement by Gurinov comes at a time when the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has been making repeated assertions about Russian fighter jets engaging in dangerous maneuvers against US warplanes and flying unprecedented sorties over US military bases in Syria.

MQ-9 Reaper
US MQ-9 Reaper drone.

However, using MQ-9 to approach Russian positions is intriguing for one simple reason: one of these drones nearly missed a Russian missile attack in Syria last year, and another was attacked by a Russian Su-27 earlier this year.

A US official disclosed in May that a Russian surface-to-air missile had narrowly missed striking an American MQ-9 Reaper drone in Syria in November 2022.

However, in what could be a very close shave for the Reaper, the missile detonated only 40 feet away from the drone, damaging it, but it managed to return to its base and land safely.

Just months later, an American MQ-9 Reaper, dispatched to monitor the Black Sea near Ukraine amid the ongoing Ukraine war, was reportedly assaulted by a Russian fighter jet, triggering concerns that it could lead to escalation between the two sides.

On March 14 this year, the US Air Force announced that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with the rear propeller of its MQ-9 Reaper drone, forcing the US to bring the drone down into the Black Sea.

Although the US has frequently used the drone to “keep an eye out,” that specific incident was a massive blow to its military.

A press release published by the US Europe Command stated that two Russian Su-27s dumped fuel on and soared in front of the US MQ-9 Reaper drone many times before one collided with the MQ-9’s propeller. The drone went down into the Black Sea, which, ironically, it was monitoring.

While the incident was an atrocious Russian overreach for Washington, the bigger problem was that Moscow fished out the drone from the sea and accessed the technology used in the Reaper.

An official of state corporation Rostec admitted that the debris MQ-9 Reaper drone was of interest to the Russian defense industry. The official asserted that to create a successful product, it needs to be understood what your competition is up to. That goes for drones, artillery, armored vehicles, and other weapons.

With the Reapers approaching Russian positions again, there are concerns among military experts that if the Russian air defense systems downed one of these drones once more, it could lead to gross miscalculation and escalation between the two sides.

This became even more dangerous as the Russian official said in his recent briefing that these flights of the “coalition” were not in agreement with the Russian Federation. Therefore Russia is not responsible for their safety.

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Tensions have been running high between the Russian and US forces supporting opposing sides of the prolonged Syrian war. Earlier this month, Gurinov complained that the US Air Force pilots violated deconfliction protocols in Syria by activating weapons systems when approaching Russian aircraft.

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“Gross violations of the deconflict protocols and the bilateral Memorandum on Flight Safety in Syria by the US-led so-called international coalition continue. The activation of weapons systems by US Air Force pilots is still noted when approaching Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft performing scheduled flights in eastern Syria,” the rear admiral said.

Not just that, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service also alleged this month that the US was planning terrorist attacks in crowded places in Syria, coordinated by the American military base at Al-Tanf. It said several ISIS fighters were being trained at the military base for these attacks.

Al-Tanf base in Syria – Wikipedia

Together with Iran and Hezbollah, Russia is part of the coalition that supports the Assad government and its military in Syria. Only when Russia stepped in to help Syria in 2015 could the Syrian military advance quickly against the rebels and the terrorists.

In contrast, the US-led International Coalition was established in 2014 to fight the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the armed wing of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, have received material, financial, and logistical support from the US since 2015.

Since the two sides oppose each other, they have had several encounters over the years. However, to avoid escalation, they have established specific mutually agreed-upon guidelines, including notifying each other of flights taking place over the airspace above their respective territory.

Both sides have reported breaches of these protocols recently, with the US CENTCOM fiercely vocal about Russian violations.

The statements made by US officials on April 24 emphasized that Russian jets had been consistently breaking long-standing agreements with the US by flying dangerously close to American jet fighters and US troops stationed in Syria over the preceding two months.

The declaration was made days after US CENTCOM, as previously reported by EurAsian Times, declassified videos of two different incidents between American aircraft and fully equipped Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets over Syria.

Last month, US officials claimed Russian jets and drones were continuing to harass the US troops deployed in Syria, raising the possibility of a fatal miscalculation or “escalation” between the two sides.

With Russian officials speaking with the same demeanor, tensions between the two nations could only be expected to rise.