Russian fighter jet forces down US military drone: What really happened over the Black Sea?

DailyBiteMar 15, 2023 | 10:33

Russian fighter jet forces down US military drone: What really happened over the Black Sea?

US drone crashes over Black Sea, Russia blamed. Photo: DailyO

A major diplomatic row between the US and Russia has broken out after a fighter jet and drone incident over the Black Sea. The US claims that a Russian military jet downed one of its unmanned drones over the at around 7 am (local time) on Tuesday (March 14).

  • This is the first time since the Ukraine war broke out in 2022, that the US and Russian military aircrafts have come in direct contact with each other. 
  • While the details of the incident are still not clear, there are reports that the incident, deemed serious, could lead to an "escalation" between the West and Russia. 

What we know happened:

  • On Tuesday, the US military's MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea after damage to its propeller.
  • Both the US and Russia agree that the drone was being "intercepted" by Russian fighter jets, even though both have different accounts on what led to the drone's downing. 
  • Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Patrick Ryder said that the Russian jet flew "in the vicinity" of the drone for nearly 30-40 minutes before the collision. 

What happened according to the US:

  • The US claims that a Su-27s Russian fighter jet collided with the drone after dumping fuel on it and flying in front of the drone causing turbulence.  
  • The US also says that the Russian jet hit the drone's propellers resulting in the crash. 
This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.
- Statement by the US
  • Several statements from White House officials did acknowledge that right now the US cannot comment on what Russia "intended to do".

What Russia has to say:

  • Kremlin has denied that it intentionally downed the US drone. 
  • Russia said that it intercepted the drone because it was flying in the direction of the Russian federation's state border.
The drone flew with its transponders off, violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime…
- Russian Defence Ministry
  • Russia also denied coming into physical contact with the drone and blaming the crash on the drone's own technical glitches. 
As a result of sharp manoeuvring around 9.30 (Moscow time), the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface.
- Russian Defence Ministry
  • The Russian fighter jet involved landed back safely in Crimea. 
  • Russian envoy to the US, Anatoly Antonov was summoned by Washington to explain the incident. 
  • Speaking to the media, he said that he had a "constructive conversation" with his US counterparts on the issue. 
  • He also reiterated Moscow's statement that the jet did not come in contact with the drone. 
We prefer not to create a situation where we can face unintended clashes or unintended incidents between the Russian Federation and the United States.
- Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the US
  • Antonov explaining Russia's position asked how the US would react if a Russian drone came too close to New York or San Francisco. 

What does this incident mean?

The US European Command statement warned Russia about the incident saying: 

These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.
  • Firstly, the incident has set off a race to recover the wreckage of the drone in the Black Sea. 
  • These drones costing $32 million each are made of the most advanced US technology and could be an intelligence nightmare if Russia were to recover the wreckage first. 
  • So far, neither the US nor Russia seemed to have recovered the wreckage. 

  • Secondly, the incident could be due to an error by a Russian pilot who got too close. Reports say Pentagon may release the video of the drone crash later. 
  • But if it is not a mistake on Russia's part, then this incident would be seen as a deliberate attack on a US aircraft, resulting in provocation and escalation. 
  • It can also be seen as an attempt by Moscow to test the response of the US. 
  • Regardless, this won't be the first time Russian jets have gotten too close to US aircraft. But until the Tuesday incident, it had not resulted in a collision. 

What are US drones doing over the Black Sea?

MQ-9 Reaper drone. Photo: USAF Photographic Archives

The Black Sea is in the international territory and the US has routinely operated the Reaper drones over the region since before the Ukraine war. 

Spy drones are used to monitor the area, gather intelligence, and track movements. The drones can fly as high as 50,000 feet and are operated by a two-member team on the ground. It can loiter over a target for 24 hours. These drones were used during wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They can also be armed or unarmed. 

Last updated: March 15, 2023 | 10:33
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