US forces downed its MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea. Here's why

According to US officials, two Russian jets tried to intercept the drone that was on a routine mission in international airspace.
Ameya Paleja
The MQ-9 Reaper drone
The MQ-9 Reaper drone

General Atomics 

In the early morning of March 14, the propeller of an MQ-9 Reaper drone being piloted by the U.S. was allegedly struck by a Russian Su-27 fighter jet over the Black Sea and had to be crashed in international waters. Here's what we know about the drone involved.

According to the U.S. statement, the MQ-9 Reaper drone was conducting routine operations in international waters when two Russian Su-27 fighter jets flew to the drone west of Crimea. The U.S. states that the pilots sought to disrupt the drone by dumping fuel on it and flying in front of it recklessly and unprofessionally.

A Pentagon spokesman added that the Russian fighter jets were close about half an hour before one of them struck the propellers and damaged it. The U.S. forces had to bring down the drone leading to its complete loss.

The MQ-9 Reaper

Built by General Atomics, the MQ-9 Reaper is a successor to the Predator drone and entered operational service in October 2007. The Predator started as a scouting drone but was later modified to become a light bomber.

With a wingspan of 66 feet (20 m), the Predator was designed to carry arms from the beginning and has a payload capacity of 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg). Its armaments include laser-guided bombs as well as Hellfire missiles.

US forces downed its MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea. Here's why
The MQ-9 Predator Drone

The drone has a single four-bladed propeller at its rear. He is remotely piloted using a forward-facing camera and a sensor pod equipped with infrared and electro-optical cameras, and a laser designator stationed underneath the head of the drone.

One of the fantastic abilities of the drone is its long endurance. Capable of staying airborne at high altitudes for over 24 hours, making it practical for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions too.

According to the U.S. report, the MQ-9 was on one such mission and reportedly unarmed when Russian fighters intercepted it. MQ-9 Reapers have been shot down before during conflicts in Yemen and even by the U.S. Air Force after losing control of one of its drones; this is the first time a Reaper has been downed without using weapons.

On its part, Russia had claimed that the drone was flying without its transponder turned on and heading toward Russian territory before it was intercepted. But it crashed of its own accord without any contact with Russian jets.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. responds to the situation. U.S. drones are helping Ukraine plan its defenses and whether a loss of a drone will make the U.S. rethink how it deploys them in the region.