The United States erased sensitive software on the MQ-9 Reaper drone remotely before it crashed into the Black Sea to prevent Russia from collecting secret information, according to two US officials.
The steps to wipe the software were taken after the encounter between the drone and two Russian Su-27 fighter jets. The Russian jets dumped jet fuel in front of the US surveillance drone early Tuesday morning, after which one of the Russian jets collided with the drone, damaging its propellor and forcing the US to bring it down in the Black Sea.
On Wednesday, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said Russia will try to retrieve wreckage of the drone. Patrushev was formerly the chief of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) – the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.
“I don’t know if we will be able to get it or not, but we need to do it... And we will definitely look into it,” Patrushev said on Russian state TV Rossiya 1.
The US does not have any Navy ships in the Black Sea, according to a Navy official, which would make any attempted US recovery effort extremely difficult and time-consuming.
On Tuesday, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said the US has taken steps to protect the “equities” associated with the drone.
“Without getting into too much detail, what I can say is that we've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone — that particular aircraft. And it’s the United States' property. We obviously don't want to see anybody getting their hands on it beyond us,” Kirby said.
The mid-air encounter occurred approximately 45 miles southwest of the Crimean peninsula, one US official said. The drone landed approximately 70 miles southwest of Crimea after gliding away from the occupied territory, the official added.