Russia Blames US MQ-9 Reaper Drone For Locking Missiles, Almost Crashing Into Su-34, Su-35 Fighters Over Syria

A day after the US accused Russia of “severely damaging” its MQ-9 Reaper drone, the Russian military alleged that a US MQ-9 Reaper drone flew “dangerously close” to a pair of Russian Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets in Syria on July 26. 

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Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, reported that on July 26 at 07:34, in the Al-Bab area at an altitude of 6,200 meters, a US-made MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle of the US-led international coalition flew “dangerously close” to a pair of Russian Aerospace Forces’ Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft.

Gurinov claimed that in response to the MQ-9 Reaper locking its weapons on the Russian fighters, the Russian aircraft automatically fired decoy flares as indicated by their radars.

According to the Russian military official, the pilots of the Russian Federation documented the irradiation of weapons guidance systems, which triggered the automatic activation of airborne defense systems and resulted in the firing of false thermal targets.

Gurinov mentioned that the Reaper drone was being flown recklessly, and a collision was narrowly avoided due to the “high level of professionalism” demonstrated by the Russian pilots. 

Russian Fighter Jet
The Russian aircraft came so close that the American craft’s camera captured images of the pilot in the cockpit. Courtesy Photo United States Air Forces Central

In addition, on July 25, the Russian military reported that the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to the US-led coalition had breached the deconfliction protocols over Syria 12 times per day. 

“On the part of the so-called international anti-terrorist coalition led by the United States, 12 cases of violation of the deconfliction protocols of December 9, 2019, related to UAV flights not coordinated with the Russian side, were recorded per day,” Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov said.

As per his statement, within the airspace above the Al-Tanf region, which serves as a passage for international air routes, there were 12 instances of airspace violations. 

These violations were carried out by four pairs of F-16 fighters, a pair of Rafale fighters, and a pair of Typhoon fighters of the pro-American coalition.

The Pentagon had previously reported that a Russian jet came within meters of an MQ-9 drone on July 23, causing damage to its propeller using flares.

The US Air Force also released compelling footage that captures a remarkable encounter between a Russian Su-35 fighter jet and an American Reaper drone. 

In the footage, the Su-35 can be seen approaching the Reaper drone. The camera on the American drone managed to capture clear images of the pilot seated inside the cockpit. 

This close encounter is a striking visual representation of the intensity and proximity with which aerial maneuvers are performed in the contested Syrian airspace.

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Over the past few weeks, Syria has witnessed mounting tensions between the Russian and US military. Accusations of violating deconfliction protocols have been hurled back and forth by both sides involved in the confrontation.

Gurinov has vehemently criticized the United States, accusing them of spreading misinformation and unreasonably blaming the Russian side for alleged dangerous approaches between their respective aircraft in Syrian airspace. 

In his statement, he specifically referred to an incident that occurred on July 25, where the American side disseminated baseless accusations through various media outlets, claiming that Russian pilots had engaged in risky maneuvers with the US UAVs.

Gurinov said it was crucial to draw attention to the fact that the flight of the coalition’s unmanned aerial vehicle in the area was provocative and lacked proper coordination and deconfliction. 

“Taking into account the fourfold difference in the flight speed of the MQ-9 UAV and the Russian Su-34, visual contact was short-lived and did not allow avoiding a dangerous rapprochement,” the deputy head of the CPVS said. 

File Image: Su-35

The Russian military official that the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) conduct regular flights in Syrian airspace within the designated zone specified in the 2016 Memorandum on the Prevention of air incidents in Syria between Russia and the United States. 

However, Gurinov contended that the pro-American coalition’s aviation provokes dangerous situations in the Syrian skies by conducting flights that violate the deconfliction protocols.

Nonetheless, the recurring encounters between US military drones and Russian fighter jets carry the potential for mishaps akin to the incident over the Black Sea in March. 

In that particular event, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet deliberately targeted a US drone of the same model, resulting in propeller damage and ultimately causing the drone to crash into the water.

These incidents highlight the inherent risks and possible unintended consequences arising from such encounters.