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US-Russia Clash: MQ-9 Reaper Drone Crashes into Black Sea After Unsafe Intercept by Russian Su-27 Jets

On Tuesday, a Russian fighter jet collided with a US drone, causing it to crash into the Black Sea.[0] The US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone was on a routine mission in international airspace when two Russian Su-27 jets attempted to intercept it.[1] The US European Command (USEUCOM) described the intercept as “unsafe and unprofessional” and accused the Russian jets of dumping fuel on and flying in front of the drone in a “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner.”[2]

The Pentagon said the incident was part of a “pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace.”[3] The US summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, to protest against the move, while in Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy conveyed a [5]strong message[5] to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[4]

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed that US aircraft will continue to “fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” calling on Russia to operate its aircraft in a “safe and professional manner.” The Russian Defense Ministry denied the US claim and said its jets didn’t come into contact with the drone, blaming the crash on “sharp maneuvering” which led it into “uncontrolled flight.”[6]

The MQ-9 Reaper drone is a US-made aircraft that costs around $15 million and is typically used for reconnaissance missions. It is believed to be the first direct U.S.-Russia clash since the war in Ukraine began last year, and is likely to increase tensions between the two nations. White House spokesman John Kirby said it was not unusual for Russian warplanes to intercept U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea, noting there have been a number of such cases in recent weeks.[4] However, this marked the first time one of these aerial intercepts “resulted in a splashing of one of our drones.[2][5]

The US has stated that it will continue to fly and operate in international airspace, while Russia is being asked to operate its aircraft in a “safe and professional manner.” This occurrence illuminates the ever-growing danger of a face-to-face altercation between Russia and the United States concerning the conflict in Ukraine.

0. “US drone crashes after encounter with Russian jet” BBC, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64957792

1. “US accuses Russia of downing drone over Black Sea: What we know” Al Jazeera English, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/15/us-accuses-russian-jet-of-downing-us-drone-what-we-know-so-far

2. “Russian jet's collision with U.S. drone sparks diplomatic flurry” POLITICO, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/03/14/prussian-jet-collides-with-u-s-drone-00086994

3. “Russia will attempt to recover debris from downed U.S. drone” Axios, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/03/15/russia-drone-black-sea-debris

4. “Russian fighter jet forces down U.S. military drone over Black Sea, U.S. says” NPR, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/14/1163414094/russian-fighter-jet-hits-u-s-military-drone-over-black-sea-forcing-it-down

5. “Russia Ambassador Says Downed U.S. Drone Was Supporting Ukrainian Attacks” Newsweek, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/russia-ambassador-says-downed-us-drone-was-supporting-ukrainian-attacks-1787807

6. “Russian Fighter Jet Collides With US Drone Over Black Sea” Bloomberg, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-14/russian-fighter-aircraft-collide-with-us-drone-above-black-sea