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Russia Has Good Odds of Retrieving Reaper, Gaining Access to Technology and Info

© Photo : Corporal Steve Follows RAF/MODUK Reaper Drone MQ9
UK Reaper Drone MQ9 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.03.2023
Russia may retrieve the US MQ-9 Reaper drone from the Black Sea, despite reports from Washington that the Pentagon has already erased all sensitive information from it, Sputnik's interlocutors say, adding that one cannot be so sure that nothing valuable is left.
"[The Russian specialists], apparently, have already reached [the area of the crash] today, or are getting there, because our ship moved in its direction this morning. They are sailing a search ship; it belongs to the category of research ships. It is likely that our [specialists] will be the first there, because we are actually not far away, only 60 kilometers away [from the crash site]," Dmitry Kornev, a military expert and founder of the Military Russia portal, told Sputnik
Earlier, US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told an American broadcaster that the US does not want the UAV "to fall into anyone's hands other than ours," after the US MQ-9 Reaper crashed into the Black Sea after engaging in a sharp maneuver on March 14.

US Secrets May Fall to Russian Hands

The Biden administration also signaled that it had already taken steps to retrieve the remains of the drone, while the Pentagon informed the US press that it managed to wipe sensitive software from the Reaper remotely.

"In the sense that all secret information has been destroyed there, some codes, etc., now all this can really be deleted remotely," said Kornev. "The issue is that they are probably not sure that this operation was really successfully completed, removing all these codes and other secret information. [It could fail] maybe due to technical failures, since the drone was already falling, perhaps there were already problems with the power supply on board the device. Theoretically, there could be something left."

The Reaper is dubbed by the US press as a primary offensive strike drone of the US Air Force. This unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a multi-purpose platform that boasts a vast variety of features. In addition, the analysis of the drone's remnants could help answer the question about its mission near the Crimean coast. There are also questions pertaining to what weapons the aircraft carried while approaching the Russian border.

"I think there's a lot of information that could be learned from the reverse engineering as far as the construction, aerodynamics, communications equipment that may be inside, [Russians] may be able to determine some of the encryption technology," Earl Rasmussen, a retired lieutenant colonel with over 20 years in the US Army and an international consultant, told Sputnik. "From what I've heard of this, there's like a black box in it as well. So there may be information that could be obtained from that. Even though a lot of information may have been erased, you might be able to reconstruct that as well."

According to Rasmussen, Russia could share some of the information with other parties, like the Iranians or the Chinese, who would be very interested in learning additional information. And those are some of the issues the US is probably concerned about, he added.
US MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.03.2023
Ex-Pentagon Analyst: Reaper Could be Sent by US to Assist with Combat Ops Against Russia
Earlier, Kiev repeatedly requested the Pentagon to provide the Ukrainian military with Reapers. According to the US press, the US Air Force considered sending its older Reaper drones to Kiev about a month after Russia's special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. However, concerns over the transfer of sensitive technology, and the fact that some of those drones would be shot down led to a stalemate.
"Technically, probably, our specialists are already familiar with the internals of such devices," Kornev said. "Such devices fell in Libya, such devices fell in Syria."
However, the search for the drone's remains is challenging.
"It won't be easy to pick it up," he continued. "The [Russian] ship will apparently conduct a search, probably with the help of some kind of underwater robot, an autonomous underwater vehicle, remotely controlled. The depth is more than 1000 meters in the place where this device lies. Well, firstly, it will be necessary to assess whether there is something to lift up. Secondly (…) it’s just a matter of honor to lift it and demonstrate to the whole world that yes, here it is."
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?

How the US Can Get to Drone's Wreckage

When it comes to the US, it would be a bit harder for Washington to get to the site and retrieve its device, according to the Russian military expert.
"At the moment, there is an easy option and a complicated one," Kornev said. "An easy option: the US may charter some kind of civilian ship, say, in Romania or Bulgaria. They could send specialists, bring the same underwater drones and sail out to carry out a particular mission. A slightly more complicated option: an American civilian ship could pass through the Bosphorus, with all the specialists, with the appropriate equipment and perform all the work that is needed."
 RQ-4 Global Hawk - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.11.2021
Iranian Army Says It Intercepted US Reaper, Global Hawk Drones During Massive Drills
There is also a third option, according to the military expert: the US could turn to Turkiye and ask it to let an American warship through the straits. In the wake of the beginning of the Russian special military operation, Ankara triggered the Montreux Convention, not used since World War II, and closed the Turkish Straits to military ships starting from February 28, 2022.
"They could put pressure on Turkiye to open up the Bosphorus Strait for them," said Rasmussen. "I don't know if they're going to do that, though. Well, they may try, but I don't know if Turkiye is going to open it or not. They are NATO countries, so there may be pressure on that. But Turkiye's been trying to stand on neutral ground, which is probably wise for them. The other side is to use most likely the Romanians, I would think the Romanians use one of their vessels to get there or to send in, we've got 82nd Airborne, it is located in Romania already. So you could access the Black Sea from any of the NATO members that are along the coastline also."
However, even though the US could try to twist Ankara's hand, the odds of the Russians getting the US unmanned aerial vehicle's wreckage are probably higher, according to Rasmussen.

"From my understanding, the deep water crane is already on site. It is deep. [Russians] have got submarines in there already. I personally think the Russians are going to be the first ones to recover the drone, at least what can be recovered from it," the scholar concluded.

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