WASHINGTON — A Russian plane collided with a U.S. Air Force drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, causing the drone to crash after an “unsafe and unprofessional interception,” the U.S. military reported.
The incident occurred Tuesday morning when two Russian SU-27 fighters conducted an intercept of the MQ-9 drone that revealed the “lack of competence” of the pilots, according to a statement from the US European command. One of the fighters clipped the drone’s propeller, forcing U.S. operators to shoot it down in international waters.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan briefed President Joe Biden on the incident, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters Tuesday. Russian pilots have intercepted US fighter jets in recent weeks, but not in such a “reckless” manner, Kirby said.
“It’s the first time an interception resulted in one of our drones being splashed,” Kirby said.
Kirby and military officials stressed that the Reaper drone was operating in international airspace when it was downed. The Russian fighters threw fuel on the drone and flew in front of it just before impact.
“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,” Air Force General James Hecker, Commander, US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, it said in a statement. “This unsafe and unprofessional action by the Russians almost caused both planes to crash.”
“U.S. and allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on Russians to behave professionally and safely,” Hecker added.
Russian pilots have engaged in “a pattern of dangerous activity” that led to Tuesday’s crash, according to the European command.
“These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintentional escalation,” the statement said.
State Department officials plan to speak directly with their Russian counterparts to raise concerns about this unsafe and unprofessional interception, Kirby said.
The Russian fighter jets intercepted and buzzed the drone about half an hour before the crash, Air Force Brig. General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday. The collision damaged the Russian fighter, but it was able to land, he said.
US drone operators crashed the damaged MQ-9 into the sea, Ryder said.
The drone crash comes amid heightened tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has sent more than $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
The US should not respond with direct force against Russia, said Notre Dame Law School professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, an expert on international law and the use of force.
While the drone likely monitored Ukraine, Russia’s disruption of the Reaper was within the laws of armed conflict, even though Russia had better ways to do it, she said.
“The US has so far succeeded in helping Ukraine without directly confronting Russia,” O’Connell said. “That approach should continue.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russian fighter jet collides with US Air Force drone over Black Sea