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Tipsheet

American Drone Taken Down by Russian Fighter Jet Over Black Sea

The United States European Command said on Tuesday afternoon that a Russian jet had collided with an unmanned U.S. Air Force drone in international airspace over the Black Sea west of Crimea, a new twist in Russia's bloody war against Ukraine that has seen significant aid from the United States but no direct contact between American and Russian forces. 

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According to EUCOM, "two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea" on Tuesday, causing "complete loss of the MQ-9."

During the intercept, "one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters," EUCOM described. "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 military added.

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U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker — commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa — said the U.S. drone was "conducting routine operations in international airspace" when the Russian jets intercepted it. Hecker pledged that "U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace" and issued a call for "the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely."

EUCOM added that Monday's intercept that took down an American drone "follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea." The military warned that these "aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation" should they continue. 

In Tuesday's Pentagon press briefing, Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder kept most details close to his vest while confirming that the U.S. State Department was taking the lead on America's initial response and communications with Russia following the incident. 

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Ryder said that the MQ-9's mission when it was intercepted by Russian fighter jets was a "common" one, and added Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had not yet spoken with his Russian counterparts. He would not say, however, whether the USAF drone was armed at the time it was intercepted or if the United States would try to recover the MQ-9 from the Black Sea.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include comments from the Pentagon press briefing held Tuesday afternoon. 

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