A Russian Su-27 fighter jet “intercepted and hit” an American Reaper drone, Tuesday March 14, above the Black Sea, an act qualified as“thoughtless” by the White House.
The US State Department summoned the Russian ambassador to Washington to inform him of his “firm disapproval”. The US Ambassador to Moscow also conveyed Washington’s protests to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The Russian army has admitted that two of its fighters intercepted an American drone over the Black Sea, but assures that they did not hit it and were not responsible for its fall. “Following a brutal maneuver, at around 9:30 a.m. Moscow time (7:30 a.m. in Paris), the MQ-9 drone began an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and struck the surface of the water (…). The Russian fighters did not use their armaments, did not make contact with the drone and returned safely to their base”, says the Russian Ministry of Defense. The aircraft was flying, he said, “with transponders switched off” and had violated “the area of the provisional airspace utilization regime established to conduct the special military operation” in Ukraine, which led to its interception.
It is the first time since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 that a NATO country allied with Ukraine has acknowledged the loss of an aircraft used by its own forces in this highly flammable region.
“Our MQ-9 drone was performing routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in the crash and loss of the MQ-9”deplores General James Hecker, commander of the American air forces in Europe, in a communicated. “This is a dangerous and unprofessional act on the part of the Russians”he continues, adding that “U.S. and allied drones will continue to operate in international airspace”. “Aggressive actions by Russian crews could lead to miscalculations and unintended escalation”insists the American army in the same press release.
“Following a brutal manoeuvre, (…) the MQ-9 drone started an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and struck the surface of the water »announced the Russian Ministry of Defense, specifying that the two hunters had not fired and had not had any ” contact “ with the drone. The incident appears to have taken place in the airspace off Odessa, according to the US Naval Institute. According to the Flightradar24 website, a P-8A Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft was circling off the coast of Romania after taking off from Sigonella Air Base, Italy.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, meanwhile, denounced a “rash act” from the Russians, noting that there had been interceptions of American drones by Russian aircraft in the past, but that this incident was ” unique “, insofar as it had resulted in the loss of the Reaper. Tuesday, at 7 p.m. (Paris time), the Russian authorities had not reacted to this information.
Regular interactions in the Black Sea
The skies of the Black Sea are the scene of very regular interactions between drones and aircraft from NATO countries and the Russian armed forces, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine. “With the current crisis, we have an increase in the number of reconnaissance vectors to Crimea, with Reaper, which we did not have before. And, depending on the situation, this can irritate the Russians, especially since there have been collection activities [d’informations] Western companies involved in targeting for Ukraine »underlines a French expert who requested anonymity.
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Ukraine’s Western allies, who have been delivering arms to Kiev since the start of the conflict, are careful not to get directly involved in Ukrainian territory for fear of an escalation with Russian nuclear power. So, “diplomatic channels may mitigate the event”it was estimated from Western military sources.
The Reaper drone, manufactured by the American company General Atomics, is a remotely piloted aircraft of the MALE (medium altitude long endurance) type, equipped with state-of-the-art on-board sensors (optronic ball and radar) to carry out surveillance operations at cruising speed. 335 km/h. With a wingspan of 20 meters, it has an autonomy of more than twenty-four hours of flight. It can carry several types of armament: laser and/or GPS (GBU) guided bombs or Hellfire missiles. Its ground crew consists of four people. In addition to the United States, several European armies have them in their fleet, including the British, Italians, French and Spanish.