US MQ-9 Reapers and Russian Su-35 collision averted over Syria

A mid-air collision was narrowly avoided between three MQ-9 Reaper drones and a Russian Su-35 Flanker-E over Syria’s Homs province. This information was reported by the Russian state news agency TASS, citing statements from Major General Yuri Popov of the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF]. 

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According to Popov, the dangerous proximity occurred on June 21 between 12:33 and 12:46 above the village of Es-Sukhna in Homs, at altitudes ranging from 7,000 to 8,000 meters. Three MQ-9 Reaper modular reconnaissance-strike drones from a US-led coalition came dangerously close to a Russian Su-35. 

Popov noted that the flight of the Russian Su-35 was authorized by the Syrian government. He praised the Russian pilot, who wasn’t named, for acting professionally and taking immediate pre-collision measures. Additionally, Popov mentioned that during the same day, there were 12 violations in the Al-Tanf area by two pairs of F-15 fighters, a pair of Typhoons, and three pairs of A-10 attack aircraft.

Russian Su-35 employs parachute flares in the US MQ-9 flight path
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Over the Black Sea

According to BulgarianMilitary.com, one of the most notable incidents involving a drone and a fighter jet took place between Russia and the United States last year. On March 14, reports emerged that a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone had crashed into the Black Sea. Confirmation soon followed from Russia, the United States, and European Command that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet was involved, with actions from the jet leading to the downing of the American drone. 

Initially, theories about physical confrontation were widespread. However, the Pentagon later released a video showing the Su-27 dumping fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper and closely maneuvering near the drone. This caused the drone operator to lose control, resulting in its crash into the sea. 

Russia will reward Su-27 pilots who 'pissed' the MQ-9 drone
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Almost two months after the incident, reports surfaced suggesting that the Russian Navy had recovered the fallen MQ-9 from the Black Sea. Yet, this information remains unconfirmed by both U.S. and Russian authorities.

Not for the first time over Syria

The Black Sea incident has led to more revelations. For example, last June, Washington shared a similar event in Syria, releasing a gripping video. Just like this time, Russian Su-35s and American MQ-9s were involved. 

Russian Su-35 employs parachute flares in the US MQ-9 flight path
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The video shows three fighters from the Russian Aerospace Forces performing dangerous maneuvers around a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone. They fly very close, weaving on either side and crossing right in front of the Reaper. 

One risky move involved firing parachute flares directly into the drone’s path. Another had a Su-35 jet moving in front of the American drone and using its afterburner, aiming to disrupt the MQ-9 operator’s control. 

US Colonel Grynkewich called these actions “another troubling example of unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Russian air forces in Syria.” He highlighted the danger to both US and Russian forces and made a plea: “We ask the Russian forces in Syria to stop this risky behavior. They need to act professionally so we can focus on our main goal – defeating ISIS.”

Since 2011

Since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there have been multiple tense encounters between Russian and U.S. military aircraft in Syrian skies. These episodes often see Russian fighter jets intercepting U.S. planes or U.S. aircraft attempting to restrict Russian movements within designated zones. 

One significant clash occurred in June 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet. According to the U.S., the Syrian aircraft had dropped bombs near the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, whereas the Syrian government asserted the plane was targeting ISIS fighters. Russia, backing the Syrian regime, condemned the U.S. action, deeming it a breach of Syria’s sovereignty. 

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Photo credit: Zona Jakarta

Another notable incident unfolded in February 2018 when a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone was reportedly downed by a Russian-manufactured air defense system run by pro-Syrian government forces. The U.S. stated that the drone was on a routine surveillance mission to support coalition forces fighting ISIS, while the Syrian government claimed the drone attacked its assets. This incident underscored the intricate and volatile dynamics of the Syrian conflict, highlighting the peril of potential direct military engagements between the U.S. and Russia.

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