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Ex-Pentagon Analyst: Reaper Could be Sent by US to Assist with Combat Ops Against Russia

© Photo : US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Brian FergusonUS MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight
US MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.03.2023
The MQ-9 Reaper drone's recovery will be challenging as it sank to a significant depth in the Black Sea, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has admitted at a Pentagon briefing as the US and Russia both race to retrieve the wreckage.
"The evidence on exactly what happened will be forthcoming, and if this drone is able to be retrieved from the water, we will know what it was actually carrying and its transponder setting," retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former analyst for the US Department of Defense, told Sputnik.
"We have already see that the US 'explained' the incident in the media first, with an attempt to deny that it is related to its Ukraine war effort, and with a curious pro-environment message – as if war and militaries are not already well-known to be environmental destroyers and polluters," the military expert continued.
On Tuesday, the airspace control of the Russian Aerospace Forces recorded the flight of the US unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 Reaper over the Black Sea in the region of the Crimean peninsula.
The drone was flying with its transponders turned off and in the direction of the Russian border. To identify the intruder, Russian fighter jets rushed to the area. The Russian Ministry of Defense clarified that, contrary to US and European Command (EUCOM) claims, the Russian aircraft did not strike the MQ-9, with the latter going into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude in the aftermath of a sharp maneuver.
The drone sank in the Black Sea as deep as 1,219 to 1,524 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the press on Wednesday. US press quoted the Pentagon official as saying that it remotely erased sensitive software from the MQ-9 Reaper drone. For his part, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, said the Russian military hopes to retrieve the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). "The Americans keep saying that they are not participating in hostilities. This is yet another confirmation that they are directly involved in these events," he said, referring to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
Airman 1st Class Steven (left) and Airman 1st Class Taylor prepare an MQ-9 Reaper for flight during exercise Combat Hammer, May 15, 2014, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Reaper crews flew a week-long mission, where they released the GBU-12 Paveway II and AGM-114 Hellfire munitions. Steven and Taylor are MQ-9 Reaper crew chiefs from the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
What Message Does Black Sea Reaper Crash Send About US Spying Missions and Double Standards?

Reaper: US Air Force Offensive Strike Drone

Earlier, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby asserted to the press that the US only sends intelligence drones for its Black Sea patrols. However, international observers wonder why the Pentagon did not send, for instance, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude, remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft, to the Black Sea coast - opting instead to dispatch the US Air Force's primary offensive strike drone.
As per the Pentagon's fact sheet, the Global Hawk provides persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and moving target indicator (MTI) sensors.
Reapers can perform intelligence gathering and surveillance tasks, however, it's a combat weapon primarily, capable of carrying a maximum load of 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg), having a maximum ceiling of 50,000 feet (15.2 km), and an endurance of around 30 hours. The MQ-9 can employ up to eight laser-guided missiles or Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and was designed in response to the US Department of Defense directive to support initiatives of overseas contingency operations. It is not clear what arms were carried by the US drone which crashed in the Black Sea on Tuesday.

"I don't believe anything the Pentagon or National Security Council, or any government, says publicly, until and unless it is accompanied by some kind of evidence," said Kwiatkowski. "A drone like the Reaper, with an anti-ground missile, depending on payload, could be used to assist with combat operations against Russia, or to cause damage to a Russian asset in a way that could be subsequently denied by the US."

"According to the US military, the Reaper drone is suitable for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-laser, convoy/raid overwatch, route clearance, target development, and terminal air guidance. Any and all of these functions aid combat operations," she continued.
Small missile ship Mirazh of the Russian Black Sea Fleet - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
What Are Other Black Sea Incidents With US Drones?

'Risk Seems to Be Increasing'

"The US has used ships, subs, drones and other aircraft for years in the Black Sea, in order to exercise it's 'right' to access international waters and as part of NATO's long mission of anti-Russian operations, under the guise of Cold War-era containment," the former Pentagon analyst said.
"The use of the MQ-9 Reapers off a coastline (capable of carrying Hellfire AGM missile, among other armaments) with or without transponders on would be concerning to any country. The Biden admin is likely attempting to probe Russian air defense and measure response and reaction of the Russian Air Force, as well as gather other intelligence, even as the conflict seems to be approaching a stalemate," Kwiatkowski suggested.
While the US is trying to deny that the deployment of the US combat drone in the Black Sea region is unrelated to its Ukraine proxy war effort, the truth is likely to come out and may further propel the non-aligned world's efforts to bring a ceasefire and ultimately peace to Ukraine, according to the US Air Force veteran.
Some American lawmakers have already raised the alarm over the Black Sea incident: GOP Representative Matt Gaetz characterized the event as showing "the treacherous reality of [the US] involvement" in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
"It is impossible to ignore the dire risk of total war with Russia as we teeter on the precipice of direct conflict. I am once again calling on Joe Biden to end our involvement in this war before the counting of lost dollars in this conflict becomes the counting of dead Americans in Ukraine," Gaetz tweeted on March 14.
An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.03.2023
Russian Defense Ministry: Flights of US Global Hawk Drones Near Crimea Create Ground for Escalation
But that is not all: according to Kwiatkowski, US NATO allies are already concerned with Washington's conduct in the wake of the Nord Stream sabotage attack and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh's allegations that the US and Norway had a hand in it.

"The US leadership continues to publicly oppose any talks of peace, and is reeling from the generally weak state of the Ukrainian military in spite of nearly $100 billion in US aid and promises in a little over a year (…) That world is itself tired of being lectured to by the US, and suffering the trade effects of Washington's proxy war in Ukraine. Because of this, we may be looking at a danger zone of US policy. Any accident or event that occurs in the coming months may be used by the US government to more aggressively justify its investment into Ukraine since before 2014," the military expert suggested.

On the other hand, she does not rule out that a "split between Pentagon and political operatives in DC along the lines of strategy may emerge that will allow the US to entertain some sort of peaceful end to the Ukraine situation."
"Overall, risk seems to be increasing – but sometimes more risk is a wake-up call for sane leadership to assert itself throughout NATO and the US," Kwiatkowski concluded.
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