Pentagon: Russia Unlikely to Recover Anything Helpful From Downed Drone

March 16, 2023 6:40 PM
MQ-9 Reaper UAV. US Air Force Photo

It’s unlikely Russia will recover anything useful from a downed U.S. drone, the Pentagon press secretary said Thursday.

Russia is likely looking to recover a U.S. MQ-9 drone that fell into the Black Sea after a Russian aircraft hit it, damaging its propeller. The U.S. decided to shoot the drone down after it was deemed uncontrollable due to the damage, USNI News previously reported.

In taking down the drone, the U.S. took steps to protect it, said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, although he declined to go into any additional details. The drone also fell into deep water, making recovery efforts more difficult.

“Well the key point here is this is U.S. property, and it’s an intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance asset,” Ryder told reporters. “And so again, we have capabilities and means at our disposal to protect and safeguard information, which we have taken, but I just have to leave it there.”

Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev told a Russian TV station that Russia would try to recover the drone, although it was not clear if the country will be successful, according to Russian state media site TASS.

Ryder acknowledged reports that claim Russia has already recovered some parts of the drone, but he could not corroborate them.

There was more Russian activity in the Black Sea Wednesday, according to ship spotters.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet has stayed close to shore at the ports in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk due to attacks by Ukrainian forces, including using a UAV to attack the port in Sevastopol, USNI News previously reported.

Recovery efforts are complicated due to how deep the drone fell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a press conference Wednesday following a meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group.

“It’s probably about maybe 4,000 or 5,000 feet of water, something like that. So, any recovery operation is very difficult at that depth by anyone,” Milley said.

The U.S. also does not have any warships in the Black Sea, which is closed to warships from nations other than those on the Black Sea. The U.S. could ask for assistance from an allied nation, such as Romania, but Ryder did not have any comments on whether an ally or partner planned to help.

Another complication is that the drone likely broke up when it hit the water, Milley said.

“There’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly,” he said. “As far as the loss of anything of sensitive intelligence, et cetera, as normal, we would take – and we did take mitigating measures, so we are quite confident that whatever – whatever was of value is no longer of value.”

U.S. European Command released declassified video of the Russian Su-27 hitting the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle Thursday. The video also shows the Russian aircraft releasing fuel in front of the MQ-9 ahead of the hit.

It’s not unusual for the Pentagon to release video of incidents such as the UAV hit, Ryder said during the press conference.

“And so particularly in this case, given the reckless and dangerous behavior and to demonstrate publicly what type of actions the Russians had taken, we felt that it was important to provide this imagery,” Ryder said. “Certainly there are certain considerations that we have to take into account when dealing with imagery to include the classification to ensure that we’re not inadvertently putting out sensitive information. But in this case, we’re able to work through that and provide that.”

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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