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I've seen lots of videos of the Russian aircraft flying near the US drone, but I've yet to see a video of the reported collision with the drone's propellor. Is there no video of the strike? If not, is there a reason why the video would stop working at the time of the strike? Some of the videos appear to show a strange color pattern and stop working when the Russian aircraft gets close. Would that be some kind of EM capability used by Russian aircraft?

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    $\begingroup$ I believe UAVs like this, send their signal from antennas on the top of the aircraft, up to a satellite. A large metal object (Su-27) would momentarily disrupt that. Possibly they also have some onboard video storage, but that has not yet been recovered. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 15:11

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I am hypothesising rather hugely about this, as the details are not in the public domain, but the UAV in question (the MQ-9) is controlled via satcom through a bulge on its back, as shown in this lovely picture from Wikipedia:

MQ9-Reaper

The satellite requires stable alignment and accurate tracking -- it is highly directional and you can approximate its angular resolution very roughly by assuming that the dish is about a foot wide and X-band microwaves are being used for communication. This gives, as an order of magnitude estimate of the required directional accuracy, $1.22\lambda/D\sim 1.22\times 3\,\mathrm{cm}/30\,\mathrm{cm}\sim\mathcal{O}(5°)$. This is really quite a precise alignment in absolute terms – look at a protractor and imagine e.g. holding your arm out in a moving car pointing at a dot and not deviating from it by that much.

The slightest jar – such as being hit – will therefore knock the communication offline while the satellite's tracking is able to re-establish itself with the requisite location. Note that 5° is actually quite a loose alignment target for satellites – anyone who has put up a TV satellite dish in their garden will know that for commercial TV stations a tolerance of ~0.1° is needed. High altitude, higher-bandwidth military systems can get by using a higher frequency part of the spectrum – I understand that they use X-band (assumed above) or Ka-band mm-wave for these sorts of communication requirements. Either way, the dish requires precise alignment and control over it (hence all the motors and electronics in the above).

After the knock, I suspect what is seen in the interim is a test signal relayed to illustrate that everything (i.e. the encryption protocol) works from the ground to the satellite. It's also worth mentioning that there is a reported 1.2 second delay between either the drone transmitting and the operator receiving or vice versa, so it wouldn't have been possible for the operator to take evasive action easily or safely. The dead time in the video of the collision is about ten seconds, indicative of a longer steering process of the dish.

I also feel compelled to note that there is clear evidence of damage to the propeller in the "after" portion of that video, however: one of the tips is bent and missing:

MQ-9 reaper drone after collision with Russian A/C

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If there is video of the strike proper, it's at the bottom of the Black Sea.

There was no ability to transmit video of the strike because the first effect of the collision (or even pre-collision wake effects) was to knock the satellite dish out of alignment, as Landak says.

So the only recording would be of any on-board recording done on the drone. However a few factors make it unlikely to ever see such data:

First, the US was probably able to regain flight control of it, long enough to do a "wipe" procedure deleting all sensitive software and data. It is likely this video recording was among the data wiped.

Second, the evidence from the video has every aviation expert recognizing an accident from a careless pilot* - disturbingly similar to the Texas B-17 loss of 2022(

) where a fighter did exactly the same thing - put themselves belly-up to the other aircraft, making it impossible to see to avoid them. That's why the US government is treating it like a jackass stunt gone wrong, and not an act of war. The facts support that. But this informs your question of why we're not likely to see any gun camera from the Russian side: there are only 3 possible cases, and all 3 give the Russians strong incentive to share or not.

  • it conforms sheer incompetence - out of pride they'd never share it.
  • it and CVR shows intent to destroy - that would be even worse!
  • it shows actual innocence, and American incompetence or malice e.g. elevator movements on the drone to pitch it up into the Russian fighter's path - in which case they would be eager to share it! That hasn't happened, so we can bet that is not the case.

"There is absolutely no tactical advantage to risk losing an Su-27 over an MQ-9 drone by intentionally hitting it" - Juan Browne

So yeah, risking loss of a Su-27 to get an MQ-9 would be a lousy trade. Further, if that had been Russia's intent, they have an excellent recovery ship - the Kommuna, the oldest naval ship not in a museum - and it's in the Black sea. If the Kommuna and other vessels had been pre-positioned for salvage operations, this would be a different kettle of fish.

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    $\begingroup$ "an accident from a careless pilot" -- I don't want to get too far into political weeds, but "accident" seems too generous a term; the collision itself may have been accidental but the close pass and fuel dump was clearly malicious. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ "That's why the US government is treating it like a jackass stunt gone wrong, and not an act of war." It seems to me that those aren't mutually exclusive, at the extremes. At some point, it becomes a case of "I'm just going to walk towards you swinging my fist, and if you get hit, it's your own fault." $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ What does "hull-down" mean? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ One reason for the US government to treat it like a jackass stunt gone wrong, is that if they treat it as an act of war, they'd be under pressure to retaliate, and they would prefer to avoid escalation. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Russell Well I suppose one can make anything of anything, like the way they made WWI out of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination but not WWIII out of JFK's. But I'm sure the US has other stuff they're not sharing, like the radio chatter between SU-27s and planes to base, or more precious intelligence that informs the question. Also, the US was already very badly burned the last time they twisted intelligence and 'wagged the dog' -- with the WMDs of Iraq. The US has to be a reliable teller of truth or the rest of the world will roll their eyes and go "there you go again". $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 3:06
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Because an SU-27 does not have a forward facing video camera as standard equipment as opposed to the turret mounted video camera on an MQ-9 UAV.

The SU-27 flight crew either were instructed not to carry, or opted not to carry, commercial video equipment such as a GoPro camera, etc. That could have filmed the mid air collision.

If such a video was shot, Russia may quietly be withholding it from release in light of the fact that this has created an international incident where it is culpable.

But the MQ-9 did, in fact, capture footage of the MAC with the Russian Flanker and it clear as day shows damage to one of the propeller blades on the drone.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I'm not sure anyone has pointed this out yet, but it can be seen that two propeller blades are damaged, not one. Look near the very end of the video. The blade directly opposite the obviously damaged one, can be seen to be knocked to a different (closer to feathered) pitch angle, and slightly bent as well. Only visible through one single pass of the blade through the camera view, just before video ends. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ (I don't know whether there's any possibility that the blade could be actually rotated as a single unit to a different pitch angle, but it sure looks like it-- grounds for a new ASE question?-- anyway, if not, it's somehow been bent in such a way as to create the same effect.) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Are you saying you could see the MAC in this video? I can see the jet pass nearby, but when it gets close the video is garbled, and sometime later it comes back on with damaged blades evident. Just wondering why the video stopped working as the jet approached from the aft, then started working again after the jet flew over. $\endgroup$
    – Mat
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ The MAC occurs as the video temporarily goes to the test pattern (Flanker really rattled its cage there). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 18:45

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