A Russian Su-27 aircraft struck part of an unmanned, U.S. drone over the Black Sea, causing the MQ-9 aircraft to crash into the water, the U.S. military claimed in a statement published Tuesday afternoon.
The collision happened around 7 a.m. local time, or about 2 a.m. eastern time on Tuesday, per the U.S. European Command. Prior to the collision itself, the military’s statement describes two Russian jets engaging in “an unsafe and unprofessional intercept” of the American drone.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” the U.S. Air Forces Europe wrote.
The military further expressed that this particular collision “follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace.” As to why the U.S. had a drone over the Black Sea, the military claimed to be conducting “routine operations in international airspace.”
White House spokesman John Kirby told the Washington Post that President Biden was briefed on the incident this morning. From WaPo:
While intercepts of aircraft are not uncommon, Kirby said, “this one obviously is noteworthy because of how unsafe [and] indeed reckless that was in causing the downing of one of our aircraft.”
Apple MacBook Air Laptop
The M1 chip delivers 3.5x faster performance than the previous generation all while using way less power. Get up to 18 hours of battery life.
In an afternoon press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder offered some additional information on the collision. The bulk of the scheduled briefing was to discuss the AUKUS defense partnership between the U.S. and Australia, and the purchase of some American submarines by Australia. However, in a post-briefing Gen. Ryder addressed reporters’ questions about the collision news.
The press secretary said that Defense Department officials haven’t yet spoken to Russian officials about the incident, but that the State Department “is raising our concerns about the incident directly with the Russian Government.” He reiterated that the MQ-9's mission was routine, describing it as an “ISR” mission—or an intelligence gathering and surveillance flight.
Ryder would not offer additional information about the exact location of the MQ-9 at the time of the incident, other than to repeatedly say it was over international waters, and not in Russian or Ukrainian airspace. At one point, the general began to say it “was well clear of any type of—” before trailing off and stating, again “it was international airspace.” He later said it was “well clear of any territory in Ukraine.”
Asked if the U.S. believes the incident could’ve been an accident on the part of Russia, Ryder said, “we are continuing to assess exactly what happened,” but added, “I think the actions speak for themselves.” Then, he reiterated the details in the European Command statement—explaining that the U.S. observed fuel dumping and the Russian craft getting close enough to damage the drone’s propeller. He added that the two Russian craft were engaged with the American MQ-9 for about 30-40 minutes before the collision. Ryder did not directly respond to a question about whether there is video footage and whether it will be released, if so.
The press secretary said that intercepts over international waters aren’t uncommon, but said the vast majority of these intercepts are safe and professional, wherein one nation’s plane flies alongside another nation’s craft to find out what it is. In contrast, he reiterated this collision and preceding interaction between the crafts was notably “unprofessional.” Ultimately, the U.S. drone was “put in a situation where it was unflyable and uncontrollable. So we brought it down,” Ryder said.
The Pentagon official would not say if the MQ-9 was an armed craft, although the drones do have the capacity to be. Ryder also did not elaborate on U.S. plans to recover the drone from the Black Sea, though he did say that Russians havn’t yet recovered it themselves.
This article is part of a developing story. Our writers and editors will be updating this page as new information is released. Please check back again in a few minutes to see the latest updates. Meanwhile, if you want more news coverage, check out our tech, science, or io9 front pages. And you can always see the most recent Gizmodo news stories at gizmodo.com/latest.