U.S. Air Force MQ-9s Harrassed by Russian Fighters for Third Consecutive Day, Syria

On July 5th, 2023, the United States Air Force Central Command announced that Russian fighters had conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept of a U.S. MQ-9. Lt Gen Alex Grynkewich, Commander, 9th AF (AFCENT) and Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) for CENTCOM told press:

“Earlier today at approximately 10:40 A.M., Russian military aircraft engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behavior while interacting with U.S. aircraft in Syria.  While three U.S. MQ-9 drones were conducting a mission against ISIS targets, three Russian fighter jets began harassing the drones.  Against established norms and protocols, the Russian jets dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing our aircraft to conduct evasive maneuvers.  Additionally, one Russian pilot positioned their aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and engaged afterburner, thereby reducing the operator’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.  These events represent another example of unprofessional and unsafe actions by Russian air forces operating in Syria, which threaten the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces. We urge Russian forces in Syria to cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of behavior expected of a professional air force so we can resume our focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

However, on July 6th, 2023, Russian state-owned media reported that Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian Armed Forces had begun air defense drills. The announcement from Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria (TsPVS) reads below:

“The Russian Aerospace Forces, together with the Air Force of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), are conducting the first stage of joint exercises. The issues of control of Syrian airspace are being worked out. The effectiveness of the air defense system of the Russian group of troops (forces) is being tested.”

He continued: “From July 5, joint Russian-Syrian exercises begin in Syria, which will last for six days. During the exercises, it is planned to work out the issues of joint actions of aviation, forces and means of air defense and electronic warfare in repelling air strikes.”

The drills are expected to last until mid-July.

On July 6th, 2023 USARCENT released this announcement saying that MQ-9s had been arrested again, this time providing video of the incident.

There was no Russian response to this announcement.

On July 7th, USARCENT released this announcement declaring that U.S. drones had once again been harrassed by Russian fighters:

“Earlier today three MQ-9 drones were once again harassed by Russian fighter aircraft while flying over Syria. During the almost two hour encounter, Russian aircraft flew 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations. We continue to encourage Russia to return to the established norms of a professional Air Force so we can all return our focus to ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

This confrontation of drones over Syria is novel and follows a pattern observed over the Black Sea in which Russian fighters downed an MQ-9 in mid-March 2023. However, according to the U.S. Air Force, their operations center on anti-ISIS operations while Russian jets seek to directly degrade that mission.

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Ethan Alun
Ethan Alun
A United States Naval Academy and American Military University Alumni, Ethan covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.
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