A Russian fighter jet collided into an American Reaper surveillance drone over the Black Sea in international airspace on Tuesday, according to the U.S. European Command.
In a press release, the U.S. Air Force said that at 2 a.m. Eastern (7 a.m. local time) a Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the U.S.’s MQ-9 aircraft, which conducts intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It was accompanied by a second Su-27 that wasn’t involved in the collision but that U.S. officials said was also involved in “unsafe” conduct.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the U.S. release said.
“This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”
U.S. operators were forced to bring the drone down in international waters, “resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
The U.S. says that the intercept is the latest in a pattern of “dangerous actions” by Russian pilots interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace. The U.S. warns that the behaviour is aggressive and “could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added.
The U.S. added that its air forces in Europe routinely fly over sovereign territory and in international airspace.
In a press conference Tuesday, Brig.-Gen. Patrick Ryder, press secretary for the Department of Defense, said that while intercepts in international airspace are not unusual, with aircraft flying close to each other to see what’s there, the incident with the Russian fighter jets was “uncommon” and “unfortunate.” He said that the U.S. State Department is raising concerns over the incident directly with the Russian government.
According to Ryder, the U.S. drone was conducting a mission when the incident occurred, with the Russian jets were flying close to the MQ-9 for around 30 to 40 minutes before the collision just after 7 a.m. local time, causing it to be “in a situation where it was unflyable.” The aircraft was “well clear” of any Ukrainian territory, he said.
“(The jet) essentially ran into the MQ-9,” he said. “The actions speak for themselves.”
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