I was a fighter pilot - this is how the US drone crash happened
Russia's invasion of Ukraine shocked the world.
The unprovoked war on the doorstep of Europe prompted NATO to deploy many of its military resources forward to reinforce its eastern flank to deter further Russian aggression.
NATO air power, which for the past year has been patrolling the borders between the West and Russia, can also provide "eyes and ears" over the whole of Ukraine, much to the frustration of the Kremlin.
So did the Russians deliberately down a US MQ-9 drone to deter NATO air power?
Russian military aircraft are routinely intercepted by NATO air defence fighters, but these engagements are usually conducted in a professional and respectful manner.
On 14 March a pair of Russian Su-27 Flanker multi-role fighter jets intercepted a $32m US MQ-9 unmanned air vehicle flying legally in international airspace over the Black Sea.
The US claimed that a Russian jet impacted their drone and downed it. The Russians - of course - denied any such actions.
But, two days later, video footage of the incident clearly showed the Russian Flankers making repeated efforts to distract the drone before one appears to impact the propeller in a highly reckless manoeuvre.
So did the Russian pilot intentionally hit the drone?
In my career as a fighter pilot I was paranoid about hitting another aircraft - I had a few close calls, but military aircraft are expensive, in short supply, and my colleagues would have bantered me mercilessly for such a lack of judgement!
So why did this happen? The MQ-9 routinely flies at around 200mph - and is very agile. However, the Russian fighters are designed to fly considerably faster than that (up to 1600mph) - slow them down and they are significantly less manoeuvrable.
Watch the footage.
The last moments before impact are revealing - with seconds to go, the pilot evidently senses that a collision is imminent, and despite his best efforts the jet cannot avoid impacting the drone.
The pilot would have faced a surge of adrenalin as he suddenly realised an impact was inevitable, followed by a sense of panic as he assessed the damage to his fighter jet.
As for the MQ-9, its propeller is finely balanced, so even the slightest damage would have caused huge vibrations that would destroy the engine; its fate was sealed.
The Russian fighter is more robust, but would have a battle scar that would take some explaining.
If the Russians had intended to down the drone, they could have used bullets and shot it out of the sky. Instead, they were evidently "intimidating" the UAV before the Russian pilot misjudged his manoeuvre.
As a former fighter pilot, it would be reckless to deliberately hit another aircraft unless required as a last resort, in which case the risks might justify the ends.
Instead, the incompetence of the Russian pilot led to the loss of a US asset and a major embarrassment for the Russian Air Force.
Russia has very capable fighter jets in its inventory, but a lack of currency means the pilots struggle to convert this into credible professional military capability.
The loss of a US MQ-9 drone in international airspace could have had significant consequences.
Fortunately, video evidence suggests this was an avoidable accident caused by Russian pilot incompetence, but with such heightened tensions, such incidents often have unintended consequences, with a grave risk of escalation.