US says drone downed in collision with Russian jet over Black Sea

Russian aircraft 'dumped fuel on and flew in front of' MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle in international airspace, US Air Force says

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A Russian jet collided with a US drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, the American military said, marking a potential escalation in tension between Washington and Moscow.

The US European Command reported that a Russian Su-27 aircraft had “struck the propeller” of an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle, forcing it to crash in international waters.

Washington said the collision took place after “two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional” encounter with the US drone, which was flying in international airspace.

President Joe Biden was informed of the collision on Tuesday morning, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The US also claimed the Russian jets “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner”.

Nato's top military commander informed allies about the collision, Reuters reported.

The US State Department said it was summoning Russia's ambassador on Tuesday.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said the drone flew over the Black Sea in the direction of Russia's border, and that its transponders were turned off. The ministry said Russian fighters did not come into contact with the drone.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been increasingly tense due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The incident follows close calls in the air between the two countries over the years, before the war in Ukraine, with US jets sometimes intercepting Russian aircraft in international airspace near Alaska.

Russian planes have also intercepted US Navy planes in the Mediterranean in the past, as well as aircraft from France and Britain.

“It is not uncommon for there to be intercepts by Russian aircraft of US aircraft over the Black Sea,” Mr Kirby said.

“This one obviously is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional and, indeed, reckless it was, and causing the downing of one of our aircraft, so it's unique in that regard.”

Mr Kirby said that the US will continue its national security operations over the Black Sea.

“US and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa Gen James Hecker said in a statement.

Ellie Sennett contributed reporting from Washington

Updated: March 15, 2023, 9:19 AM