Russia ‘wins race’ to find US Reaper drone 3,000ft under Black Sea

Russia'wins the race' to recover downed US Reaper drone 3,000ft under the Black Sea

According to reports in Russia, Moscow found the wreckage of the drone in the Black Sea (Images: Getty)

Russia claims it has won the race to find the crashed US Reaper spy drone at the bottom of the Black Sea, reports have said.

The MQ-9 was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets and one hit its propeller, causing it to crash into deep water.

Footage of the interception released by the United States on Thursday showed one of the fighter jets flying very close to the unmanned drone and dumping fuel nearby.

The White House said the clip refutes Russia’s claims that the plane crashed after “sharp maneuvers” and denies the jets had any contact with it.

National security spokesman John Kirby said: “It absolutely just decimates the Russian lie about what they said it happened or what they said it didn’t happen.

“Looking at this video, it’s pretty damn obvious that (the) fighter jet hit our drone.”

Tuesday’s downing of the MQ-9 was the first direct US-Russian incident since the start of the Ukraine war and soured already strained relations between Washington and Moscow.

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Now Russia is said to have located the drone almost 3,000 feet underwater in the Black Sea near the port of Sevastopol.

A source close to the Russian Defense Ministry told ForPost, a publication in annexed Crimea: “An underwater robot descended to the seabed and spotted the MQ-9 Reaper at a depth of about 850 to 900 meters.

“The deepwater leg of the South Stream gas pipeline runs not far from this area.”

The report stated that Russian naval forces “are deployed in the area where the US military reconnaissance vehicle crashed”.

It follows claims from Russian sources in leaked radio transmissions that some debris from the American drone was found on the surface.

An exchange says, “Are you observing any objects?”

“We raised part of the object.”

“And what is that part?”

“It’s the housing of an engine.”

There was no official confirmation of ForPost’s claim.

It’s unclear how long a Russian salvage operation might take to recover the downed drone.

SEVASTOPOL, UKRAINE – MARCH 14: In this screenshot of a video clip released by the US Department of Defense's European Command, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet flies close to an American MQ-9 Reaper drone and sprays what the US -Government Designated Jet Fuel, on 14 March 2023 over the Black Sea near Crimea. During a recent flyover, the Russian jet reportedly collided with the drone, damaging its propeller and forcing it to be brought down in the Black Sea. (Photo: US Department of Defense European Command via Getty Images)

Screenshot of a video clip released by the US Department of Defense’s European Command showing a Russian Su-27 fighter jet flying near an American MQ-9 Reaper drone (Image: Getty)

US officials have insisted that even if Russia manages to recover the wreckage, nothing of military value would remain of the drone.

They left open the possibility of recovering parts of the crashed $32 million plane they said crashed in waters as deep as 5,000 feet, but the US has no ships in the area.

Russia and NATO member countries routinely intercept each other’s fighter planes, but the drone incident marked the first time since the Cold War that a US plane had crashed during such a confrontation, raising concerns that the United States and Russia were engaged in a direct conflict could come closer.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over US intelligence flights near the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized and illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Top defense and military leaders from the White House and Kremlin spoke on Wednesday about the drone’s destruction, underscoring the seriousness of the event.

The phone calls between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and between Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley and General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the first since October.

The Russian Defense Ministry, in its report on the conversation with Austin, said Shoigu accused the US of provoking the incident by ignoring flight restrictions imposed by the Kremlin as part of its military operations in Ukraine.

Moscow argues that by supplying arms to Ukraine and sharing intelligence with Kiev, the US and its Western allies have effectively become embroiled in the war.

The MQ-9, which has a wingspan of 66 feet, includes a ground control station and satellite equipment.

It is capable of carrying ammunition, but Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, would not say whether the dropped drone was armed.

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Justin Scacco

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