A Russian fighter jet has destroyed a £27million ($32million) US drone over the Black Sea. Washington has accused Moscow of intentionally downing the unmanned aircraft after it was set upon by two Su-27 fighter planes. The American MQ-9 drone, brought down over international waters, also had fuel dumped on it during the intercept attempt.
The US Air Force has labelled the action “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional”.
“At approximately 7.03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters,” US Air Force General James B.Hecker, said in a statement.
US officials said the Russian fighters intentionally provoked the drone by dumping fuel on it, before clipping its propeller – resulting in a complete loss of the device.
The statement continued: “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.”
John Kirby, the National Security Council communication coordinator, said is “not uncommon” for Russian jets to intercept US aircraft over the Black Sea, highlighting other similar incidents in recent weeks.
But the “unsafe, unprofessional and recklessness” of Russia‘s actions on this occasion made this incident unique, he said.
General Hecker, who oversees the US Air Force in the region, added: “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.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash”, adding that the incident “follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots over international airspace”.
It is not yet known why the Russian jet downed the drone, but analysts suggest it may have been an attempt to recover data from the aircraft.
Both Russian and US aircraft have operated over the Black Sea – which borders both Russia and Ukraine – throughout the course of the Ukraine war, sparked by an invasion by Vladimir Putin‘s forces in February 2022.
However, this incident is believed to be the first known interaction, prompting fears of a dangerous escalation between the US and Moscow.
Reaper drones are capable of flying as high as 50,000ft and have the ability to gather battlefield intelligence and perform surveillance for extended periods of time.
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