A Russian aircraft has collided with a US drone in international airspace over the Black Sea, causing the latter to crash.
Two Su-27 planes had attempted to intercept the MQ-9 Reaper drone by dumping fuel in front of it several times in an attempt to damage the aircraft before the collision.
The Russian aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9 drone, causing US forces to bring the unmanned aircraft down.
A statement from US European Command described the Russian manoeuvres as “reckless”, “unprofessional” and “environmentally unsound”.
The drone was on a routine flight in accordance with international laws to bolster collective European defence and security, it said.
Ukraine war latest – Was this a provocation?
This is the latest in a series of dangerous Russian piloting, the statement said, which could lead to “unintended escalation”.
The Russian Defence Ministry claimed the fighter jets did not come into contact with the US drone, nor did the jets use on-board weapons.
Russia’s Ria News Agency reported that the ministry said the drone went into an “uncontrolled flight” and collided with the water as a result of a “sharp manoeuvre”.
It claimed Russian fighters were in the area to identify the object.
US Air Force General James Hecker described the incident as an “unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians”, which has led to the complete loss of an MQ-9.
Unintended escalation in airspace close to Ukraine
The downing of a US drone after an “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept by Russian jets over the Black Sea underlines the risk of unintended escalation in the increasingly crowded airspace close to Ukraine.
Key will be how the United States chooses to respond to what seems to have been an accidental rather than deliberate crash.
Yet the US military said the Russian Su-27 fighter planes dumped fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper drone “several times” and flew in front of it “in a reckless, environmentally-unsound and unprofessional manner”.
One of the jets then collided with the drone’s propeller, forcing the unmanned aircraft to crash into the sea.
Last year, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace revealed that a missile was released from a Russian aircraft near an unarmed RAF plane on a routine patrol over the Black Sea.
He described the incident on 29 September as a “potentially dangerous engagement” but said it was not deemed a “deliberate escalation”.
White House spokesman John Kirby described the incident as “unique” in the fact that it led to the downing of a US aircraft.
MQ-9 drone versus Su-27 fighter jet?
The MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely piloted drone used for surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as attack missions.
Whereas the Su-27 fighter jet is a Soviet-era invention originally built in 1982 to counter powerful US plane technology.
The former can be equipped with missiles, but the one that crashed today was an intelligence aircraft, according to US European command.
The latter is armed with a 30mm gun, and is capable of firing a range of missiles, rockets and bombs.
The US will continue to fly and operate over the Black Sea, according to Mr Kirby, who said that they do not need to check with the Russians when they do, as it is over international waters.
Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the US, said Russia does not want any confrontation with the US.
He said despite the difference in the remarks made by the two countries concerning the drone crash, the issue was resolved constructively.