Russia resorted to military action against an American target Friday, March 14, much sooner in their dispute on Ukraine than could have been expected, when a Russian cyber warfare unit intercepted and downed a US military drone over the Crimea.
"The drone was flying at about 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) [over the Crimean Peninsula] and was virtually invisible from the ground. It was possible to break the link with US operators with complex radio-electronic technology,” said the Russian state arms and technology group Rostec Friday, March 14. The drone fell “almost intact" into the hands of "self-defense forces.”
No part of this report is confirmed by the US or any independent source.
It is not clear whether the Russians broke an ordinary radio link or a satellite link from the US operators to the drone. If the latter, the technology would have been similar to that used by Iran in December, 2011 to down the top-secret US RAQ-170 Sentinel UAV and recover it intact – a feat usually credited by Western intelligence experts to Chinese cyber experts.
Rostec said on its website that “according to its identification number, UAV MQ-5B belonged to the 66th America Reconnaissance Brigade based in Bavaria.”
Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ended six hours of talks sharply at odds on the Crimean referendum, which takes place Sunday March 16, with the foregone conclusion of annexation to Russia. The US and West judge the referendum illegal and a violation of Ukrainian territory integrity and sovereignty, in defiance of the interim government in Kiev, which they recognize as the legitimate rulers of all Ukraine. The US and EU have threatened to impose sanctions against Russia if the referendum takes place.
The Russian interception of the US MQB Hunter drone – if confirmed – would ramp up the controversy for the first time from a war of words to a military face-off, marking a dangerous turning-point in the Ukraine crisis and inter-power relations.
debkafile’s military sources describe the MQ-5B Hunter as a long endurance, medium altitude, multi-mission, tactical UAV system (UAS). It is optimized to provide Army division and corps commanders with a dedicated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. It may have been tracking the movements of the Russian Black Sea Fleet whose home base is the Crimean port of Sevastopol.