Deeming the damaged aircraft unrecoverable, the U.S. military is not actively trying to raise the Air Force's MQ-9 drone that was downed by a Russian pilot over the Black Sea.
The military was forced to crash land the unmanned drone in the Black Sea last week after two Russian pilots flew recklessly close to the U.S. aircraft and dumped fuel on it multiple times before flying into the drone's propeller.
"There are not any ongoing recovery efforts, as the MQ-9 sank to an unrecoverable depth in the Black Sea," a U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa spokesperson told the Washington Examiner. "However, we took mitigating measures to secure and wipe all sensitive data from the aircraft prior to the crash to prevent anyone from obtaining any intelligence of value if they were to recover the plane."
Russian officials have reportedly said they intend to recover the $32 million unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and an American official told CNN the U.S. believes Russia has been able to find small pieces of the drone.
"It's our estimation that the MQ-9, when it crashed, went very deep and has not been recovered," Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Tuesday. "As far as the Russians go and the MQ-9, again, we'd seen press reports that they may have picked up some surface debris. We can't corroborate those reports."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said last week that the drone "probably broke up" and that there's "probably not a lot to recover, frankly." He speculated that what was left of the drone "probably sank to some significant depths."
Moscow had denied hitting the drone; however, U.S. European Command released video footage of the incident from a camera onboard the drone days later. In the video, a Russian Su-27 flew in close to the UAV and began to release fuel. On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian Su-27 that had been shadowing the drone struck its propeller, damaging a blade. The video segment does not show the collision, although it does show the damage to the propeller.
U.S. defense officials spoke with Russian peers following the incident in international airspace.
"Now, I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, [Defense] Minister [Sergei] Shoigu; and as I've said repeatedly, it's important that great powers be models of transparency and communication," U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a press briefing last week. "And the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner."
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