A Russian fighter jet shot down a U.S. Air Force drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday after damaging the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper’s propeller, according to the U.S. military.
A Reaper drone and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea on Tuesday, with one of the Russian jets deliberately flying in front of the drone and shooting multiple times, a statement from U.S. European Command said. Dumping fuel on the drone for the first time.
The plane then struck the drone’s propeller, prompting the U.S. military to land the MQ-9 drone in international waters. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Clyde added on Tuesday that the Russian aircraft had been flying “in the vicinity” of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before colliding just after 7 a.m. CET.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft while performing routine operations in international airspace, resulting in the crash and total loss of the MQ-9,” the Air Force general said. James B. Hecker, Commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, said in a statement. “Indeed, this unsafe and unprofessional behavior by the Russians almost resulted in the crash of two planes.”
The incident marked the first direct physical contact between Russian and U.S. military aircraft since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago and could heighten tensions between the two countries, which the U.S. called Russia’s actions “reckless and not conducive to the environment” and unprofessional. ”
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said Russia did not want a “confrontation” between his country and the U.S. after he was summoned to the State Department after the drone was shot down.
“We do not want to create a situation where we can face unexpected conflicts or unexpected events between the Russian Federation and the United States,” Antonov said.
Antonov, who spent more than half an hour at the State Department, said Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried relayed U.S. concerns about the incident and they “exchanged views on this issue because we have some differences.”
“From my point of view, this is a constructive conversation on this issue. I heard her and I hope she understands what I said,” Antonov said in response to a question from CNN.
He also claimed that Russia “has notified this space, which has been identified as a zone of special military operations.”
“We have warned not to enter, not to infiltrate,” he said, asking how the U.S. would react if a Russian drone came close to New York or San Francisco.
Antonov reiterated the Russian Ministry of Defense’s denial of the incident. They denied in a statement earlier Tuesday that Russian jets had come into contact with the drone, saying fighter jets “scrambled to identify the intruder” after spotting the intruder over the Black Sea, adding that the drone ” Entered unguided flight state”Altitude drop. ”
“The drone, flying with its transponder turned off, violated the borders of the temporary airspace regime established for special military operations, communicated with all users of international airspace and issued in accordance with international standards,” the ministry said.
National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan briefed President Joe Biden about the incident Tuesday morning, according to National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby. Defense Department officials “have not spoken specifically to Russian authorities about this incident,” Ryder said.
Separately, Price said the United States had “engaged at a high level with our allies and partners” briefing them on the incident. He added that the U.S. was “unable to say what the Russians intended to do with the exercise,” but that the ultimate intent was less important than “what actually happened.”
Kirby said it was “not uncommon” for Russian aircraft to intercept U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea, adding that there had been other interceptions in recent weeks.
But what was unique about Tuesday’s incident, he said, was how “unsafe, unprofessional and reckless” Russia’s actions were.
Ryder said Tuesday that the Pentagon is currently working to declassify images of the incident. He also said Russia had not recovered the downed drone.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday, Kirby said the U.S. has “taken steps to protect our rights” with respect to this drone.
“We obviously don’t want to see anyone get it outside of us,” Kirby said. He added that the United States rejected Russia’s denial of responsibility, saying people “should take everything the Russians say about what they’re doing in and around Ukraine with a grain of salt.”
Russian and American aircraft have fought over the Black Sea during the Ukraine war, but this is the first known interaction of its kind, with a potentially dangerous escalation at a critical point in the fighting.
The United States has been operating Reaper drones over the Black Sea since before the war began, using spy drones to monitor the region. Reapers can fly at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, according to the U.S. Air Force, and they have sensors and capabilities to gather intelligence and conduct reconnaissance over extended periods of time, making them ideal platforms for tracking movements on the battlefield and in the Black Sea.
This story has been updated with more details.