US: Russians hit drone over Black Sea
State Department calls action ‘violation of international law’
KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday in a “brazen violation of international law,” causing American forces to bring down the unmanned aerial vehicle, the U.S. said.
But Russia insisted its warplanes didn’t hit the MQ-9 Reaper drone. Instead, it said the drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into the water following an encounter with Russian fighter jets that had been scrambled to intercept it near Crimea.
The incident, which added to RussiaU.S. tensions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine, appeared to be the first time since the height of the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after an encounter with a Russian warplane.
U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to White House national security spokesman John Kirby. He added that U.S. State Department officials would be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts and “expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a “brazen violation of international law.” He said the U.S. summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge a protest and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar representations in Moscow.
The U.S. European Command said two Russian Su-27 fighter jets intercepted the drone while it was operating within international airspace. It said one of the Russian fighters struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to bring it down in international waters.
Prior to that, the Su-27s dumped fuel on the MQ-9 and flew in front of it several times in “a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the U.S. European Command said in a statement from Stuttgart, Germany.
“This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” it added.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said the 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 added that “in fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the incident occurred at 7:03 a.m. Central European time (0603 GMT; 2:03 a.m. EST) 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 includes a ground control station and satellite equipment and has a 66-foot (20-meter) wingspan. It is capable of carrying munitions, but Ryder would not say whether it was armed. The U.S. had not recovered the crashed drone, U.S. Air Forces-Europe said in a statement, and neither had Russia, Ryder said.
He said it appeared the Russian aircraft also was damaged in the collision, but the U.S. has confirmed that it did land, although Ryder would not say where.