Three Russian fighter jets intercepted three US Air Force drones in northeastern Syria on Wednesday morning local time, according to the senior commander in charge of Air Force operations in the Middle East.
Air Force Lt. Gen Alex Grynkewich described the Russian maneuver against the MQ-9 Reaper drones – which officials said were monitoring ISIS targets in Syria – as “unsafe and unprofessional.”
US Central Command released video of the incident, which shows the jets releasing parachute flares in front of the drones, ostensibly to block their view.
“Against established norms and protocols, the Russian jets dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing our aircraft to conduct evasive maneuvers,” Grynkewich said. “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.”
Both the US and Russia are operating in Syria; the US as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, and Russia in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The intercept comes nearly four months after a Russian fighter jet forced down an MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea after damaging its propeller.
That drone and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea in March when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times, US European Command said in a statement at the time.
The aircraft then hit the propeller of the drone, prompting US forces to bring the MQ-9 drone down in international waters.
The US has seen an uptick in these kinds of incidents with Russian aircraft over the last several months, with Russian jets getting dangerously close not only to US drones but also to manned US fighter jets flying over Syria.
“They’re maneuvering aggressively against us when our protocols would say we’re supposed to stay… several miles apart and just monitor each other,” Grynkewich told Defense One in April. “[T]hey’re aggressively maneuvering, almost like they’re trying to dogfight, if you will. That’s very concerning.”