In the most recent deadly air encounter with the US military over Syria, a Russian fighter plane destroyed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone early on Sunday, the Air Force reported on Tuesday.
At around 12:23 a.m. local time, the Russian aircraft flew "dangerously close" to the American drone, harassing the MQ-9 and firing flares from a position directly overhead, according to a statement from US Air Forces Central commander Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich.
In a dramatic video, a Russian plane can be seen flying toward a Reaper drone and getting so near that the American drone's camera can see the pilot in the cockpit.
Soon after, the Russian jet can be seen flying over the American drone and firing four flares; at least one of these flares hit the Reaper, "severely damaging its propeller," according to AFCENT. The Russian jet then cuts to black.
The propeller's tip, which was twisted and damaged by the heat and power of the flare, has a noticeable, black burn mark visible in images provided along with the video.
According to Grynkewich, the damage was insufficient to make the drone fall from the sky.
Fortunately, the MQ-9 crew could keep the aircraft in the air and return it to its home base safely, he said.
The drone was carrying out a mission against ISIS in Syria when Russia meddled, as in other such occurrences this month.
The US has not stated what might have prompted the Russian actions or the precise location of each event over Syria.
Our aim to achieve the long-term destruction of ISIS is compromised by the Russian fighter's flagrant disrespect for flight safety, Grynkewich stated. "We demand that the Russian forces in Syria immediately stop this careless, unwarranted, and improper conduct."
After another Russian Su-35 fighter approached a manned US MC-12 aircraft "in an unsafe and unprofessional manner" that was "against established norms and protocols," according to Grynkewich, the latest incident occurred a week later.
According to him, the event made it necessary for the American twin-engine turboprop aircraft to fly into the Su-35's wake turbulence, which made it harder for the crew to control the plane properly and put the lives of the four crew members in danger.
The encounter on Sunday also occurred less than three weeks after Russian planes engaged in risky manoeuvres around American MQ-9 Reapers that were also striking ISIS over Syria on July 5 and 6, dropping a number of flares in front of American drones.
Three unmanned US aircraft could be seen passing in front of several Su-35s in a video published earlier this month by the Air Force.
One of the drones was briefly cut off by a Russian fighter, which turned on its afterburner and made it harder for the US plane to fly safely.
According to US Central Command, Usamah al-Muhajir, a prominent ISIS leader, was assassinated in eastern Syria a few days later by the same three MQ-9 Reaper drones.