A Russian fighter jet collided with a US Air Force drone and forced it down in international airspace over the Black Sea on Tuesday, after damaging the propeller of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone, according to the US Air Force.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement but says US activity near Russia‘s borders is ’cause for concern’.
The Reaper drone and two SU-27 Flanker jets were operating over international waters over the Black Sea when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel in front of the unmanned drone, according to the official.
One of the jets then damaged the propeller of the Reaper, which is mounted on the rear of the drone, the official said.
The damage to the propeller forced the US to bring down the Reaper in international waters in the Black Sea.
This is the first time Russian and US military aircraft have come into direct contact since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago and is likely to increase tensions between the two nations, with the US Air Force calling Russia’s actions ‘reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional.’
Professor Michael Clarke who is a defence analyst says the incident is ‘almost certainly’ an accident.
The American drone had been going in circles in international airspace, Clarke says, and was highly likely there for surveillance and picking up intelligence.
The US has been doing this for a few months and every time Moscow has tried to ‘put the drones off, divert them, buzz them with aircraft’, he says.
Due to the speeds of the two aircraft, Clarke believes it is ‘much more likely an accident’ than a deliberate attempt by Russia to shoot down the drone.
Meanwhile, National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby said it was ‘not uncommon’ for Russian aircraft to intercept US aircraft over the Black Sea, and said there had been other intercepts in recent weeks.
But he said the episode Tuesday was unique in how ‘unsafe, unprofessional and reckless’ the Russian actions were.
At approximately 7:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters.
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.
‘This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,’ US Air Force Gen. James B.Hecker, commander, US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa said in the statement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.
‘I want to tell Mr. Putin, stop this behavior before you are the cause of an unintended escalation,’ he said. Going on to say that ‘the interception will not deter the United States from operating over the Black Sea.
‘These aggressive actions by Russian aircraft are risky and could lead, I repeat, to unintended escalation.
‘The US has routinely flown over the Black Sea since before Putin’s illegal and reckless invasion of Ukraine, and I’m confident our military will continue to do so,’ Schumer said.