A Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with an American military drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, the U.S. military said. U.S. forces brought down the drone in international waters, the U.S. military’s European Command said in a statement, and the White House called the Russian plane’s intercept of the unmanned aircraft “reckless.”
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” U.S. Air Force General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in a statement.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” Hecker said.
At the Pentagon, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Russian jet was likely damaged in the incident but it did land afterward. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, wouldn’t say where the jet landed.
Ryder, who wouldn’t say whether the drone was armed, referred to the unmanned aircraft as a MQ-9, but not a Reaper. The U.S. uses MQ-9 Reapers for both surveillance and strikes and has operated the drones in a variety of locations, including in the Middle East and Africa. Other countries, including Britain and France, also fly Reapers.
The drone in Tuesday’s incident was conducting an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, Ryder said.
Moscow, for its part, denied causing the drone to crash.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering … the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that the two Russian jets had no contact with the U.S. aircraft and did not use their weapons.
The Defense Ministry also called the drone an “intruder” that was heading toward Russia’s border. Ryder told reporters the drone was operating in international airspace over international waters.
The State Department said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest.
“We are engaging directly with the Russians, again at senior levels, to convey our strong objections to this unsafe, unprofessional intercept, which caused the downing of the unmanned U.S. aircraft,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Russian intercepts in the Black Sea area are common, but this one “is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed reckless that it was,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists.
Two Russian fighter jets were involved in the incident, European Command said. During what the military called “an unsafe and unprofessional intercept” Tuesday morning, one of the Russian jets struck the drone’s propeller, which led to U.S. forces taking the drone down.
Before the collision, the jets dumped fuel on the drone and flew in front of it “in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” European Command said.
Kirby said President Biden had been briefed about the incident.
“We don’t need to have some sort of check-in with the Russians before we fly in international airspace. There’s no requirement to do that, nor do we do it,” he added.
Several U.S. MQ-9s have been lost in recent years, including to hostile action.
One was shot down in 2019 over Yemen with a surface-to-air missile fired by Houthi rebels, who also unsuccessfully fired on another of the drones a few days later, U.S. Central Command said.
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