A Russian Su-27 fighter jet has collided with a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea, the US military says, claiming that the incident occurred in international airspace.
In a statement on Tuesday, US Air Force General James Hecker, who oversees the US Air Force in the region, said that the twin-engine Russian warplane had hit the American drone earlier in the day.
“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,” he said, adding that the Russian fighter jet had clipped the propeller of the drone in the collision, which occurred at 7:03 a.m. CET (6:03 am GMT).
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” Hecker further said, alleging that the incident “follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots… over Intl. airspace.”
It is, however, not clear why the US drone was flying in the area at that time. According to a report, citing a quote from the US’s European Command, the Su-27s dumped fuel and flew in front of the American drone, suggesting a lack of competence.
The MQ-9 Reaper drone is a remotely-piloted aircraft that is primarily employed by the US Air Force for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Furthermore, the drone is also capable of carrying out strike operations with precision-guided missiles and bombs.
“The State Department will be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts, and expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept,” said White House spokesman John Kirby.
He alleged that the Russians had previously intercepted drones but this one was notable because it had caused the downing of an American aircraft. “So it’s unique in that regard,” Kirby added.
Russia denies it downed US drone
Russia denied causing the US drone to crash despite accusations from Washington, according to AFP.
The Russian defense ministry in Moscow said it detected an American MQ-9 drone “over the waters of the Black Sea in the area of the Crimean peninsula” flying “towards the Russian state border”.
It added that the drone was flying with its “transponders turned off” and fighter jets were scrambled “to identify” it.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering at around 0930 MSK (0630 GMT) the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle entered an uncontrolled flight with the loss of altitude and collided with the surface of the water,” the ministry said.
“The Russian fighters did not use their on-board weapons, made no contact with the UAV and safely returned to their home airfield,” the ministry said.
Moscow views the incident as a provocation, Russia’s RIA state news agency cited Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, as saying on Tuesday.
“We view this incident as a provocation,” Antonov said after being summoned by the US State Department. Washington said that the fighter jet downed the US drone. Russia has denied that.