Russian jet harasses and then collides with U.S. Reaper drone over Black Sea

A Russian jet harassed and then collided with a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. to bring the MQ-9 Reaper drone down in international waters, the U.S. European Command said.

“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,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

Two Russian Su-27 jets tracked the U.S. surveillance drone as it flew in international airspace over the Black Sea, which borders Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, among other countries. Prior to the collision, the jets “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” according to a statement from the U.S. European Command.

An MQ-9 Reaper flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt / U.S. Air Force file

At about 7 a.m., one of the jets struck the drone’s propeller, forcing the U.S. to bring it down.

The European Command statement said the incident “demonstrates a lack of competence” on the part of the Russians “in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” and is part of a pattern of dangerous behavior by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. Allied planes.

Said Hecker, “U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely.”

The U.S. said it routinely flies aircraft in Europe in both sovereign and international airspace in accordance with international law and with the approval of host nations “in order to bolster collective European defense and security” and “support Allied, partner, and U.S. national objectives.” 

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