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Russia Downed an American Drone Yesterday

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In yet another step in the escalation between the US and Russia, as of Monday, Russia was directly involved in crashing an American MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Unsurprisingly, the stories from each side involved have some key differences.

Here’s what the US says.

Two Russian Su-27 fighter planes were flying in tandem over the Black Sea just west of Crimea, where the American drone was flying.

Then, the Su-27s began to literally play around with the Reaper, continually flying right in front of it and dumping fuel on it. Eventually, this led to one of the Su-27s clipping the Reaper’s propeller, causing it to crash land in the Black Sea. The Reaper was deemed to be a “complete loss.”

Here’s the official statement of the US.

American military officials said the unarmed Reaper drone was flying a typical reconnaissance mission when it was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets about 75 miles southwest of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has used as a base for launching devastating strikes.

“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the military’s European Command said in a statement. “This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.

Here’s what Russia says.

The Russian fighter jets returned to wherever it was they were heading, and America lost a drone.

Russia’s version of the story is different. From Sputnik:

US drone MQ-9 fell into the Black Sea on Tuesday morning due to its own sharp maneuvering, Russian fighters did not come into contact with it and did not use weapons, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

“As a result of sharp maneuvering around 09:30 Moscow time [06:30 GMT], unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 went into an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surfaceThe Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their home airfield,” the ministry said.

The Russian defense ministry seems to indicate that the US was up to something, stating:

The flight of the drone “was carried out with transponders turned off, violating the boundaries of the area of the temporary regime for the use of airspace, established for the purpose of conducting a special military operation, communicated to all users of international airspace and published in accordance with international standards,”

Personally, I think we need to consider the very real possibility that this was intentional.

Unrestricted Warfare makes the case that war is simply accomplishing your goals by any means necessary. Russia sees an American drone over international waters. Russia doesn’t want that drone there. They know that if they actively shoot it down with a missile, there’s a very good chance that this will directly lead to increased escalation between the two nations.

So, what do you do to remove the drone from the area?

Why not send two guys up into the air who are just “playing around” – very obviously so – for some time period before they actually clip the propeller? Any type of fighter jet out there is built to withstand some degree of damage. A fighter pilot knows the ins and outs of his jet, and he knows what it can handle.

A nick from a propeller? Sure, why not?

He knows that this will lead to the direct downing of the Reaper – a propeller-driven aircraft – and yeah, his plane may suffer some degree of damage, but not enough that it will actually lead to his needing to eject.

And if he needs to eject? Is there any chance that any ship (or submarine) other than a Russian ship would be allowed to pick that pilot up? Nope. To do so would be an international relations nightmare.

John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, said that there had been similar “intercepts” by Russian aircraft in recent weeks — nearly all conducted without incident, according to military officials — but that this episode was “noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was.” (source)

Unsafe? Yeah, that’s war.

Unprofessional? I don’t know there. I think these fighter pilots probably knew exactly what they were doing. They’re professionally trained to take down aircraft, especially drones, which are an ever-increasing part of modern warfare. You don’t think somebody could be trained in how to clip the propeller of a drone? Watch the Blue Angels fly sometime. They’re incredible. Notice the degree of control those pilots have over their planes, being able to fly within inches of each other in formation for quite some time. I guarantee you that other nations have pilots that can do the same.

Think about the degree of plausible deniability this type of maneuver gives the Russians, too. They’re able to eliminate an American drone from the arena (technically, the entire incident took place over international waters) without causing escalation, and then, when somebody points to the whole issue they’re able to say that it was all just an unfortunate accident caused by two pilots who were just playing around with some unauthorized maneuvers.

That would cause all this to really work in Russia’s favor.

According to EUCOM, these types of maneuvers risk an “accidental escalation.”

Again, I don’t know if it would be accidental. Russia has long held a policy of “escalate to de-escalate.” They’re more than willing to jump to the top of the threat matrix to cause whoever they’re fighting to back down.

If you look at game theory, that type of method kind of works pretty well.

Game theory falls apart when you’re playing against an irrational actor, the madman. When you get in a fight with somebody who is automatically willing to escalate to 40000% of the baseline level when typically an opponent would only escalate 10%, it tends to leave one somewhat at a loss with what to do.

That’s what Russia does, however, and they tend to resort to playing the nuke card to do this. But knowing this –  because I’m most certainly not the only one who knows about that policy –  could publicly stating that this was an unprofessional act be a way to avoid ever having to escalate in the first place?

If it was publicly stated that this was a purposeful means of downing our drone – a trick of the trade – and there was no denying it, then we would have to escalate. By denying any purposeful wrongdoing in the first place and describing everything as military hooliganism, we avoid having to respond outright.

What do you think really happened?

But what do you think? Was this just two 20-somethings who were looking to goof around a bit, or was this something more? Do you think there’s more to this story here? Do you think this will lead anywhere?

Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to and Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

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