The US has accused Russia of engaging in risky maneuvers near US military drones over Syria, raising concerns that Moscow may deliberately attempt to “bring down” another MQ-9 Reaper.
The US Air Force has published video evidence depicting the three Russian Su-35 fighter jets engaging in risky maneuvers near several US drones in Syrian airspace on July 5.
In an official statement, Lieutenant General Alex Grynkewich said that the Russian jets exhibited “unsafe and unprofessional behavior” during an encounter with three US MQ-9 drones over Syria at approximately 10:40 a.m. on July 5.
Grynkewich stated that the Russian pilots engaged in harassment of the drones on multiple occasions throughout the encounter.
He emphasized that the Russian jets violated established norms and protocols by deploying numerous parachute flares in the path of the drones, resulting in the need for evasive maneuvers by the US aircraft.
Regarding Russia's unprofessional behavior while reacting with U.S. aircraft over Syria, please see the video of today's encounter.
For the full statement by Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, Commander, 9th AF (AFCENT) visithttps://t.co/WKDYPiPT96@CENTCOM @DeptofDefense @usairforce pic.twitter.com/nmSSBxUojO
— US AFCENT (@USAFCENT) July 5, 2023
Furthermore, he pointed out that one Russian pilot deliberately positioned his Su-35 fighter aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and activated the afterburner, compromising the operator’s ability to control the drone safely.
The Air Force has made available an unclassified video that showcases some moments from the encounter. One particular frame displays a Su-35 fighter jet approaching one of the MQ-9 drones closely, while another segment captures the descent of parachute flares within the drones’ flight path.
In the video, the caption describes the engagement as a “new level” of inappropriate behavior exhibited by Russia’s air force over Syria.
“These events represent another example of unprofessional and unsafe actions by Russian air forces operating in Syria, which threaten the safety of both US and Russian forces,” Grynkewich said.
He added, “We urge Russian forces in Syria to cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of behavior expected of a professional air force so we can resume our focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
The Air Force did not provide specific details regarding the nature of the mission carried out by the MQ-9 drones against ISIS targets in Syria.
Furthermore, the precise location of the incidents over Syria involving the MQ-9 drones and the Russian fighter jets has not been explicitly disclosed, leaving the specific area of the encounters unclear.
The prompt release of the latest video documenting the encounter between the Russian fighter jets and the MQ-9 drones resembles a previous incident in March.
During that incident, a similar video was declassified and made public to demonstrate a Russian Su-27 pilot’s harassment of an MQ-9 operating in international airspace above the Black Sea.
The confrontation between the Russian jet and US military drone resulted in a collision that caused damage to the rear propeller of the drone. As a result, the US was compelled to bring the MQ-9 Reaper drone down into the Black Sea.
In recent months, US officials have raised concerns about the escalating aggression displayed by Russian pilots close to American interests and assets throughout the Middle East.
These incidents have included armed flyovers of military positions and indications of a willingness to engage in dogfights.
In a separate incident, a US official revealed in May that an American MQ-9 Reaper drone operating in Syria had encountered a near-miss situation with a Russian surface-to-air missile in November 2022.
The missile detonated merely 40 feet away from the Reaper, causing damage. However, despite the close call, the drone successfully returned to its base and landed safely.
In response to these situations, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in June that a squadron of F-22 Raptors had been deployed to the Middle East to demonstrate USAF power.
While the deployment of the jets is intended to convey a message, a US Air Force official explained that their primary mission remains contributing to the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State.
On the other hand, Russia has asserted that the US is deploying MQ-9 Reaper drones close to Russian positions in Syria.
On June 29, a senior Russian official stated that the Russian Armed Forces had detected ten instances of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to the “international anti-terrorist coalition,” led by the US, violating airspace regulations in Syria during the past day.
Nonetheless, given the increasing number of encounters between US military drones and Russian jets, there is a valid concern that if Russian forces were to down another drone, it could potentially result in a significant escalation between the two sides.
Such incidents can potentially exacerbate tensions and further complicate the already delicate situation in the region.