An American drone crashed on Tuesday of this week in the Black Sea after starring in a dangerous encounter with a Russian fighter. This unexpected episode, which leaves many questions on the table and whose versions of what happened differ depending on who tells them, has become the most recent disagreement between Washington and Moscow.
As the days go by, more information appears on the scene. The new data can help us try to understand what really happened, but it is also possible that we will never know. However, one thing has become clear in this whole affair: both countries lost money. The question is how much.
One incident, different versions
To calculate when public money has disappeared from the United States and Russia, we must resort to their versions. From The Pentagon they affirm than two Russian Su-27 fighters they dumped fuel on an MQ-9 drone. This unmanned aircraft, they explain, carried out routine surveillance activities over the Black Sea in international airspace.
The American account states that the Russian fighters flew close to their drone for about 30 or 40 minutes. Later, one of the fighters “struck the propeller of the MQ-9”, forcing the armed forces that owned the aircraft to shoot it down in international waters. For Washington, the situation was so dangerous that both planes could have crashed.
Now let’s look at the Russian version. The country’s defense ministry says that the MQ-9 drone entered an area that was “out of bounds” and was flying with the transponders turned off. Consequently, fighters were sent to intercept it. However, it was not these that caused the US device to end up submerged in international waters, but a “sharp maneuver”.
“As a result of a sudden maneuver, the American drone entered a uncontrollable flight with loss of altitude and crashed on the surface of the water,” said the defense authorities of the country led by Vladimir Putin. They also explain that although the Russian fighters approached to intercept the drone, they did not use their weapons and did not “come into contact.”
The United States, first, the one that has lost the most
Despite the fact that the versions of the countries involved do not agree on many things, they do agree on two elementary points. The United States lost a drone and Russia managed to land its fighters. First of all, the big loser in this story, from an economic point of view, is Washington, since its drone is a very expensive weapon of war.
The MQ-9 Reaper have little to do with commercial drones, and even with the advanced kamikaze drones that are participating in the war that is being waged in Ukraine. These are aircraft surveillance and attack that work thanks to the coordinated work of different components. Control stations and satellites are responsible for maintaining communication.
As explained the United States Air Force, all this data is received by a pilot who is in charge of controlling the aircraft and by another member of the armed forces who has the weapons and sensors under his control. The cost of these advanced drones is about 32 million dollars each, although weapons must be added to these.
Each aircraft can carry up to four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles ($150,000 each) and two GBU-12 Paveway II 230kg laser-guided bombs ($21,000 each). It is unknown, yes if the drone was armed at the time of leading the conflict in the Black Sea, but we can see that weapons are not cheap.
As for the Russian fighters, they have been identified as the Sukhoi Su-27, a fourth-generation combat aircraft whose characteristics place it as a direct competitor to the American F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle. Each unit has an estimated price of 30 million dollars and can also carry weapons whose price is not entirely clear.
Now that we have the data on the table, we can ask ourselves, when did each person lose money? United States lost several million dollars for the missing MQ-9 Reaper and, if it had been armed, we would have to add the cost of the attack units on board.
A sore point that we should not leave out of the calculations is the possibility of losing sight of sensitive technology. Russia has said that it will try to recover the remains of the drone, although Washington has assured that they believe that this will not be possible.
In the case of Russia, it has been the Pentagon itself that has confirmed that the Russian fighters managed to land, although it has warned that one of them was probably damaged during the encounter with the US drone. At this point, we would not be facing a substantial loss, but rather the expenses associated with the necessary repairs.
Images: United States Air Force | Screenshot of the declassified video published by the United States European Command | Dmitry Pichugin (Wikimedia Commons)
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