The State Department has summoned Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, to voice protest after a Russian fighter jet collided with and destroyed an American Reaper drone over the Black Sea.
US officials said the MQ-9 surveillance drone was downed early on Tuesday following an ‘unsafe and unprofessional intercept’ in international airspace by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets.
Pentagon officials said the Russian fighters harassed the drone by dumping fuel on it and flying in front of it, before one Su-27 clipped the propeller of the $32 million drone, forcing it down over the Black Sea in a total loss of the unmanned aircraft.
‘This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,’ said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder in a press briefing.
In a statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry denied colliding with the US drone, saying the American aircraft went into ‘uncontrolled flight’ due to ‘sharp maneuvering’.
The incident happened in international airspace, but not far from the battles raging on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country.
‘This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,’ said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder (above)
A Russian fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone (like the one seen above) over the Black Sea, the US military confirmed today
Two Russian Su-27 fighter jets (like the one seen above) conducted an ‘unsafe and unprofessional intercept’ in international airspace, the US said
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident, said White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby, who slammed Russia’s actions as reckless and dangerous.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the US drone was flying toward its airspace with its transponder turned off, and the Russian fighters were dispatched to investigate.
‘Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons and did not come into contact with the American drone,’ the ministry said in a statement.
‘Due to sharp maneuvering, the American drone went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,’ the statement added.
The Russian ambassador Antonov had been summoned to discuss the incident, said State Department spokesman Ned Price, calling it a ‘brazen violation of international law’.
Kirby, the White House spokesman, said that the State Department ‘will be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts, and expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept.’
‘If the message is that they want to deter or dissuade us from flying, operating in international airspace over the Black Sea, then that message will fail,’ said Kirby.
‘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,’ Kirby added.
While the United States is not sailing warships in the Black Sea, it has routinely been flying surveillance aircraft in and around the area.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov (above) has been summoned by the State Department to discuss the incident
Putin on Tuesday visited the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant in Buryatia, Russia, where he reaffirmed his view that Russia’s very existence as a state was at stake in the war
Russian Sukhoi SU-27
Type: Fighter jet
Top speed: 1,550mph
Wing span: 48ft
Range: 2,193 miles
Armament: 30mm cannon air-to-air/land missiles, rockets and bombs
US MQ-9 Reaper
Type: Surveillance drone
Remote crew: Two
Top speed: 300mph
Wing span: 66ft
Range: 1,150 miles
Armament: AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II, and GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions
‘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,’ said US Air Force General James Hecker, who oversees the US Air Force in the region.
‘In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,’ added Hecker.
The general went on to vow that ‘US and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely.’
European Command said in a statement the incident ‘follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots’ over international airspace, including the Black Sea.
‘These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation,’ the statement added.
The mid-air collision between a US-made MQ-9 Reaper and a Russian Su-27 fighter jet occurred at 7.03am CET (2.03am ET) on Tuesday.
Analysts suggested the Russians may have been trying to down the much smaller unmanned aircraft in such a way that would allow them to recover its data.
General Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said the incident occurred over international waters, and well clear of Ukraine, after the Russian jets had flown in the vicinity of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes.
There did not appear to be any communications between the aircraft before the collision, Ryder added.
The MQ-9 is capable of carrying munitions, but Ryder declined to comment on whether it was armed or the specifics of its mission, saying only that the drone is designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Ryder also declined to identify the base from which the destroyed MQ-9 had launched.
The US has MQ-9s forward deployed to several NATO ally bases in Europe, including NAS Sigonella in Italy, Miroslawiec AB in Poland, Campia Turzii in Romania and Larissa Air Base in Greece.
US officials said that neither the US nor Russia had recovered the destroyed drone as of Tuesday night local time.
The US does not have warships on the Black Sea, but on Tuesday night public flight data showed a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft was patrolling over the Romanian coastline, possibly related to a recovery operation.
On Tuesday night public flight data showed a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft was patrolling over the Romanian coastline, possibly related to a recovery operation
A Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol plane of the US Air Force flies over neutral waters of the Black Sea in a photo taken by Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighters that intercepted it in July 2021
In Brussels, NATO’s senior military commander, General Christopher Cavoli, informed allies about the incident, an alliance official said.
It occurred as Russian troops pushed forward in waves along the frontline in eastern Ukraine, as President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his view that Russia’s very existence as a state was at stake in the war.
In the eastern Donbas region, Russia and Ukraine are locked in the bloodiest infantry battle in Europe since World War Two after Moscow launched a winter offensive.
Putin has framed Moscow’s year-long invasion of Ukraine as a defensive pushback against what he sees as a hostile West bent on expanding into territories historically ruled by Russia.
‘So for us this is not a geopolitical task, but a task of the survival of Russian statehood, creating conditions for the future development of the country and our children,’ Putin said during a visit to an aviation factory in Buryatia, some 2,750 miles east of Moscow.
Putin accuses the West of using Ukraine as a tool to inflict ‘strategic defeat’ on Russia.
Kyiv and its Western allies say Moscow is waging an unprovoked war of conquest that has destroyed Ukrainian cities, killed thousands of people and forced millions more to flee their homes.