On March 14, 2023, according to the U.S. Military's European Command, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet made physical contact with an American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone off the coast of Russian-occupied Crimea, causing it to crash into the Black Sea:
A Russian Su-27 aircraft struck a U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle's propeller, causing U.S. forces to bring it down into international waters of the Black Sea early this morning, according to U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa in a statement today.
"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. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional," Hecker stated.
In a briefing, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder explained that two Su-27s were flying near the drone for about 30 to 40 minutes, as reported by The New York Times:
Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said that the Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying near the American Reaper for about 30 to 40 minutes.
The much faster Russian warplanes repeatedly zoomed around the propeller-driven Reaper, dumping fuel on it, apparently in an effort to sully the drone's cameras or damage its other sensors, the senior military official said.
Russia denied the U.S. account of the incident, arguing that "Russian Air Force scrambled fighter jets to identify the drone, the unmanned U.S. aircraft maneuvered sharply, lost altitude and hit the water."
In light of the differing accounts, the Pentagon said at the time it was moving to declassify footage of the incident. On Mar.16, 2023, the Pentagon released that footage. European Central Command posted the video to their official YouTube channel:
As described by NPR, the video shows two close passes involving what appear to be intentional fuel dumps on the drone. The video cuts out on the second pass after apparently colliding with the plane:
In the 42-second video, a Russian Su-27 aircraft is seen approaching from the drone's rear quarter, releasing a plume of fuel as it pulls upward and over the drone, causing the footage to partially pixelate. The camera recovers as the fighter jet pulls away, showing the drone's rear-mounted propeller in normal working condition.
The footage then shows what the Pentagon says is an "even closer" pass from a Russian jet. Approaching from what looks to be a lower angle, the Su-27 releases more fuel and its fuselage is seen coming extremely close to the drone before the video cuts out entirely. The Pentagon says the camera feed was lost for around 60 seconds.
U.S. officials believe the interception and harassment of the drone was intentional, but do not know if Russians intended to make physical contact with the drone.
Because the video was released by the Pentagon and shared on official U.S. military YouTube channels, the claim that the video is authentic is "True."