Can the MQ-9 with AIM-9X missile fight air-to-air with Su-27?
PANAGYURISHTE, BULGARIA — Looking through the comments from yesterday to today I see many people asking if the MQ-9 Reaper could fight the Russian Su-27? Yes, it is about the incident on March 14th. On this day over the Black Sea, Russian Su-27s forced an MQ-9 into the water. Su-27 does not use missiles but fills the drone with fuel thrown from its fuel tanks. One Su-27 is said to have managed to hook the Reaper’s propeller.
- Russian Su-27 ‘shot down’ US MQ-9 Reaper over the Black Sea
- MQ-9 crashed in Al-Qaeda’s region, the wreckage is in Al-Qaeda
- Watch: US Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper was shot down by LNA in Libya
Of course, such an answer requires a different interpretation of events. Therefore, I will not discuss who was right and who was wrong, and whether there was a provocation or not. I will try to explain if the two aircraft meet in a combat mission, and how they can counteract each other. I also don’t think I need to describe the equipment of the Su-27. This aircraft has air-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles, bombs, etc. He was made to fight such a battle. It will be much more interesting to see how the MQ-9 can counter the Su-27.
The MQ-9 Reaper was created by General Atomic to conduct reconnaissance and combat. Most often this drone can be seen equipped with air-to-ground missiles. These are not missiles to counter any fighter jet. However, by 2020, the US Air Force had conducted at least three known successful live-fire tests of an AIM-9X Block II air-to-air missile [AIM-9 Sidewinder]. The carrier of the missile and the launch platform was precisely the MQ-9 Reaper.
I.e. under certain circumstances, most likely in combat missions, the US drone could be equipped with an air combat counterforce. The first test of the air-to-air missile in joint use with the American drone was in 2017. Then the US Air Force announced that it had successfully hit a real aerial target – the BQM-167 target drone.
I.e. The US Air Force can attack an air target during combat. But can it be defended? The answer is a resounding yes. Early models of the MQ-9 lacked such electronic countermeasures against enemy missiles. Today, however, the MQ-9 Reaper can provide electronic and expendable countermeasures. The weak link in these modern countermeasures is that they are aimed at countering a ground threat, not an air threat.
However, US experts say that the MQ-9 Reaper can build better electronic and expendable air countermeasures if used in conjunction with the AIM-9X Block II. I.e. radar and electronic warfare systems on both platforms would give better awareness to the drone operator.
Although the drone is not designed to fight air battles, we come to the conclusion that to some extent it can defend against air threats, even in this particular case from the Su-27. But will this protection be effective? Can a drone fight on an equal footing with a fighter jet and can it emerge victorious?
At the moment, the only case in which a drone has defeated a fighter has been reported. This happened last year in Ukraine when a Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot destroyed a dozen Iranian Shahed-136 drones. Debris from the one destroyed drone, however, seriously damages the fighter and the plane falls to the ground. The pilot ejected. Of course, it’s not the dogfight you’re looking for. But still, if we proceed from the fact that Shahed is a kamikaze drone designed to cause damage when it explodes, we can say that it has done its job.
Going back to the MQ-9 Reaper case study, we have to go even further back in history – to when it was created. This drone is based on the first drone of its kind – the Q-1 Predator. The Q-1 Predator has fought air-to-air combat and has a history in that direction. But, this battle ends unsuccessfully for the American drone.
It takes place in 2022 in Iraq. An Iraqi MiG-25 is attacked by a Q-1 Predator. The drone fires two air-to-air missiles at him. The plane evades them by successfully maneuvering which in turn fires an air-to-air missile that proves fatal to the American drone. He falls to the ground and is completely destroyed. This incident was documented by the drone’s video cameras. You can watch it in the video above.
There are several other downed Q-1 Predators in history. But all the examples so far show us that the drone can be armed with the desired weapon, but it is not yet able to fight an equal battle with the fighters. It is slower, very less maneuverable compared to fighters, and more difficult to escape from the moment of interception. Let’s not forget another thing – fighter jets have the opportunity to fly at a much higher altitude. They have thrust that a drone can only dream of with their electric motors.
The incident in the Black Sea itself shows us that the fighter can counter the drone in a way that does not use a weapon at all. Reading quite a few comments with this thread I come across claims that the drone can retaliate in the air-to-air realm. I also come to this conclusion, but if you say one thing, you have to say two. I.e. just because the drone can fire back doesn’t mean it’s up to the point of firing makes it. Because the effectiveness of a military platform is evaluated based on its combat capability and effectiveness. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money. Perhaps that is why there is currently no information that any MQ-9 Reaper drone in the world is armed with air-to-air missiles for operational missions.
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