The Pentagon released footage of a Russian aircraft dumping fuel on an unmanned U.S. drone, damaging the propeller and forcing U.S. controllers to crash land device in the Black Sea on Tuesday.
“Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 Reaper operating within international airspace,” the Pentagon said in a release issued with the video.
According to a statement from U.S. European Command, two Russian SU-27 fighters intercepted the drone Tuesday, demonstrating a “lack of competence,” according to a statement from U.S. European Command.
The initial statement said that one of the fighters struck the drone’s propeller, “nearly caused both aircraft to crash” and forced U.S. operators to bring the drone down in international waters.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its fighter jets were trying to identify the “intruder” flying near Crimea when the drone’s own abrupt maneuvering caused it to crash.
The ministry accused the U.S. of provoking the incident, saying the American drone flew with its transponders switched off and “violating the borders” established by the Kremlin due to the war.
“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,” U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in a statement.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash,” he added.
EUCOM warned such incidents could increase the risk of escalation between the two countries as both the U.S. and Russia remain in a period of heightened tensions over the war in Ukraine.
Russian aircraft have conducted several reckless or unsafe interceptions of manned and unmanned American and allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea, according to EUCOM.
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The latest one is the only known to have resulted in a loss since the Ukraine war began.
At least two interceptions of Russian aircraft occurred near Alaska in 2023, according to media reports.
In February, according to CBS News, two U.S. F-16 aircraft conducted a “routine” intercept of four Russian military aircraft, including a bomber and SU–25 fighter jets, in international airspace near Alaska. A similar incident occurred in October.
“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace, and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker said.
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