By Kevin Zhang
A U.S. military MQ-9 surveillance drone has crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday after being intercepted by a pair of Russian fighter jets, in the first incident of its kind since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
The Pentagon said that one of the Russian Su-27 jets struck the propeller of the unmanned drone, making it inoperable and causing it to later crash into the sea. Russia’s defense ministry had a different story however, instead blaming the “sharp maneuvering” of the unmanned drone for the crash and claims that their jets did not make contact.
Although no lives were lost in the incident, it reminds us of the risk of a direct confrontation between the two superpowers involved in the Ukraine war. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Army General Christopher Cavoli, briefed NATO allies about the incident. The White House and Pentagon condemned the incident and warned of a risk of escalation, and the State Department summoned Russia’s ambassador.
The U.S. military described the flyby of the two Russian Su-27 jets as a reckless intercept, claiming the jets dumped fuel on the drone and flew in front of it in unsafe maneuvers. After around 30 to 40 minutes, one of the Russian jets then collided with the drone, causing it to crash.
“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.” U.S. Air Force General James Hecker, who oversees the U.S. Air Force in the region, said in a statement.