News that two Russian fighter jet pilots forced down a United States drone traveling over the Black Sea, has marked a potentially dramatic escalation between Russian forces and U.S. military operating near Ukraine.
According to military officials, the pilots had repeatedly dumped fuel onto the drone and flew in front of it in a “reckless” and “unprofessional” manner before a collision brought the surveillance equipment down.
Amid this, one video began appearing on social media, purportedly showing the drone flying over the Black Sea before it was grounded.
Pictured here, maintenance personnel check a Predator drone operated by the U.S. Office of Air and Marine on March 7, 2013, from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Videos shared online claim to show a downed MQ-9 drone that was traveling over the Black Sea. John Moore/Getty Images
Multiple tweets posted on March 15, 2023, included a video of a drone claimed to be the MQ-9 taken down over the Black Sea.
One tweet by user @Tendar, posted on March 15, 2023, which has been viewed 142,000 times, said: “One Russian pilots released a video of a flyby next to American MQ-9 Reaper drone. Could be from yesterday. According [sic] the Pentagon Russians did. many flybys until one of the Russian planes destroyed the propeller of the Reaper.”
User @Capt_Navy’s post, seen 148,000 times, said: “#MQ9 #drone View of the USAF [American flag emoji] MQ-9 drone from the cockpit of the [Russian flag emoji] Russian Su-27fighter”
Another tweet by @runews, viewed 70,000 times, said: “Say hello to the U.S. drone.”
Although we can’t conclude with certainty whether the footage here is real or simulated, context provides reason to consider that it might not be of the MQ-9 drone that went down over the Black Sea.
The video source appears to be the Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber, which has more than 294,000 subscribers.
The channel’s owner appeared on Russian television after the MQ-9 crash, later submitting the video to their Telegram channel, referring to his TV appearance.
Fighterbomber did not claim the video depicted the MQ-9 taken down over the Black Sea, nor did he claim to have such footage during the interview.
A translation of the Telegram post read: “Talked to Rudolfych about the Reaper on Solovyov Live and Vesti FM.
“If you think it’s very simple, here’s a video of what and how a fighter pilot sees when he encounters a low-speed target at high altitude.
“I didn’t think of that. I should have put it in black and white. R.I.P.”
The Fighterbomber Telegram post was sent around 6:15 a.m. on March 15, 2023. The footage then began to spread elsewhere on social media, with claims it showed the down MQ-9.
This chain of events strongly suggests that even if the video is real, it’s not the encounter that took place over the Black Sea.
There are some signs the video could be a simulation. The lighting reflecting from the drone appears rather flat (more like the effects of a video game or 3D simulation) and while the capture of footage from either a phone or a Go-Pro camera is possible there’s still a question of practicality or reason for doing so.
At only five seconds long, one might consider what purpose releasing such footage would have been from either a military information or propaganda perspective.
There is also no military insignia or other information identifying that the drone is from the U.S., as often appears to be the case.
Some social media users have suggested that the footage could be real, noting what looks like a phone camera reflected in the glass of the cockpit and the movement of the propellors (their slow rotation potentially an example of the footage “phasing,” a camera trick caused by image frame rate synchronicity).
Whether the video is a simulation or not, the original post suggests it has nothing to do with the MQ-9 and is merely meant to be demonstrative of what the encounter may have looked like.
Although that does not mean we can rule out that the footage is authentic, particularly so soon after it was released, based on what information is available the claim should be treated with skepticism.
Newsweek reached out to the Pentagon and the Kremlin for comment.
The video is thought to have been shared from a Russian Telegram account and, according to a translation, was meant to demonstrate what the encounter between Russian fighter jets and the MQ-9 drone may have looked like.
This was later shared as proof of the encounter without corroboration. Although its authenticity is yet to be fully verified, whether or not the footage is real, its provenance suggests it is not the aircraft taken down over the Black Sea.
FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team