WASHINGTON – A Russian fighter jet shot down a US drone operating over the Black Sea on Tuesday, the US European Command said in a statement.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in the crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, U.S. commander Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa.
Before the collision, two Russian planes, including the one involved in the collision, harassed the drone, he said.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel and flew in front of the MQ-9s in a reckless, polluting and unprofessional manner,” the statement added.
The incident “shows a lack of competence” on the part of Russia, the European command said. The US called the behavior “unsafe and unprofessional” and part of a pattern of dangerous behavior by Russian pilots.
The collision occurred in international airspace, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He added that the US was constantly flying over the Black Sea before war broke out in Ukraine in February last year. Kirby said the US is not required to “check in” with Russia before flying.
General Atomics’ Guardian drone, the maritime version of the company’s Predator B or MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its two fighter jets did not come into contact with the US drone. In a statement published on its official Telegram channel, the ministry said the drone was flying with its transponders near the Crimean peninsula when it went into “unguided flight” and then fell into the water.
The US is discussing salvage operations for the drone, two US defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NBC News. The officials added that no US vessels are currently in the Black Sea.
The incident was the first time officials noticed a Russian plane dumping fuel on a US plane during an interception.
An official said the plane that collided with the drone was most likely damaged, but initial reports say it was able to land in Crimea. Russia annexed it Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014.
Two Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets perform during celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) air base in Kant, some 20 km outside Bishkek, October 27, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO (Photo credit should read VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images)
Vyacheslav Oseledko | AFP | Getty Images
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration is about to summon Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, to discuss the “brazen violation of international law.”
“We have primarily worked with our high-level allies and partners to brief them on this incident and let them know what we know,” Price said on a conference call with reporters.
“We are again working directly with the Russians at a high level to express our strong objections to this unsafe, unprofessional interception that caused the downing of the US UAV,” he added.
The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The MQ-9 drone system is designed to gather intelligence and conduct reconnaissance missions and is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
The remotely operated system can carry a combination of Hellfire missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munitions or JDAMs. Pentagon press secretary US Air Force Brig. Gen. Gen. Pat Ryder declined to say whether the drone was armed.
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