Russian Su-35 ‘Clashes’ With French Rafale Fighters; Comes After ‘Dangerous Encounter’ With MQ-9 Reaper Drone

Following the revelation by the US military that its MQ-9 drones were harassed by Russian Su-35 fighters over Syria, the French Military now announced that their Rafales also had an unsafe encounter with a Russian Su-35 along the Iraqi-Syrian border. 

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On July 6, the Operations Directorate of the French Ministry of Defense took to Twitter to announce that two Rafales engaged in a protection mission along the Iraqi-Syrian border had encountered a non-professional interaction from a Su-35.

In response, the French pilots maneuvered to mitigate the risk of an accident before resuming their patrol activities.

“On 06/07, two Rafales, on a protection mission on the Iraqi-Syrian border, reacted to a non-professional interaction on the part of a Su-35. The pilots maneuvered to control the risk of an accident before continuing their patrol,” the tweet read. 

Reposting the tweet, the official Twitter account of the US Air Forces Central (AFCENT) expressed their concerns due to the repeated instances of Russian fighter aircraft flying in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner towards both French and US aircraft over Syria. 

The AFCENT reiterated their unwavering support for their French allies’ rightful conduct of security missions in the region.

Meanwhile, to reinforce their statement, the French authorities also provided evidence by presenting a picture of the Russian combat aircraft involved in the event,  likely taken from a Damocles or Talios observation pod, illustrating its proximity to the Rafales. 

The French Rafale fighter aircraft have been mobilized to the region to carry out airstrikes on ISIS targets and offer direct air support to ground forces as part of Operation Chammal, which is France’s contribution to the multinational Operation Inherent Resolve aimed at countering the threat posed by ISIS.

France’s participation in this mission began in September 2014 at the request of Iraqi authorities.

The encounter between the French Rafales and the Russian Su-35 occurred within less than twenty-four hours after the US released footage showing three Russian Su-35 planes “harassing” three American MQ-9 Reaper drones that were involved in an operation against ISIS in Syria.  

The conduct displayed by the Russian pilots over Syria bears similarities to the incident that occurred in March over the Black Sea, resulting in the loss of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone.

French Rafale: Twitter

Despite establishing formal deconfliction arrangements between the US and Russian militaries in Syria in 2019, the Russian side has faced repeated accusations of violating the terms of these agreements.

But in recent weeks, there has been a notable surge in incidents involving Russian forces, as reported by US Central Command (US CENTCOM), responsible for overseeing Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Previously, the US military also disclosed that there had been documented instances where “armed Russian fighter aircraft” flew directly over US-led coalition forces in Syria. These incidents occurred a total of 26 times within the timeframe of March 1 to April 19. 

Russia’s Stance On Encounter With US Drones

While the US forces have accused Russian aircraft of flying unprofessionally, Russian military officials have countered by stating that drones belonging to the US-led international coalition in Syria are committing ongoing violations of deconfliction protocols.  

The deputy head of the Russian reconciliation center asserted that the electronic fire guidance systems of US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operating in Syria emit signals specifically targeted toward Russian warplanes, reported Tass

These signals are claimed to automatically activate the defensive aid suites (DAS) installed on the Russian aircraft. 

Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, the deputy head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides in Syria, said, “Of particular concern are reports received from pilots of the Russian Aerospace Forces, who registered cases US UAVs using their electronic fire guidance systems on Russian warplanes, automatically triggering their onboard defensive aide suites.” 

He further alleged, “Evidence of the impact of US drones’ targeting systems that activates Russian aircraft’s onboard defense systems, which Russian pilots recorded during drills, causes particular concern.”

File Image: Su-27

The statement highlights the ongoing tensions and accusations between the two sides regarding the actions and intentions of their respective regional military forces.

According to Gurinov, ongoing violations of deconfliction protocols by drones belonging to the US-led international coalition in Syria are being continually monitored. 

Over the past 24 hours, nine such violations have been registered, specifically in the northern Syria area, which has been designated as closed for all air traffic due to the joint military exercise conducted by Russia and Syria, he added. 

The joint exercises between the Russian and Syrian air forces commenced on July 6 and are scheduled to continue until mid-July, as stated by the Russian defense ministry. 

According to the Russian media, the exercises demonstrate military cooperation and coordination between the two nations.