The US MQ-9 Reaper drone and more: the shadowy role spy planes and satellites play

Russian fighter jet brings down US Air Force drone over international waters

Stars Insider

16/03/23 | StarsInsider


On Tuesday, March 14, a US MQ-9 Reaper drone was flying over the Black Sea in international waters. Footage from the unmanned drone showed that two Russian jets intentionally flew in front of it and dumped fuel on it several times. One jet flew close enough to hit the propeller. The attempt to sabotage the drone's flight was successful, and the US remote pilots were forced to bring the aerial vehicle down into the sea. 

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker in the statement. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.” This incident marks the first time that Russian and American aircraft have had a physical encounter since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russia announced that they are attempting to recover the damaged drone from the Black Sea, although US military forces state that if this happens, Russia's "ability to exploit useful intelligence will be highly minimized."

Incidents like this, and February's Chinese balloon scandal, have sparked a debate about the use of reconnaissance satellites by governments around the world, and the precise role they play. The United States currently operates anywhere between 339 and 485 military satellites. Russia is known to have 71 military satellites, and China 63. France and Germany have nine and seven, respectively.

A reconnaissance satellite is mainly deployed for military or intelligence purposes. But it can perform other tasks. Just what, precisely? Click through and find out who has eyes in the sky.

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