Russian fighter jets collided with the rear propeller of an unmanned U.S. military drone on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. to bring down the drone into the waters off the Black Sea close to Ukraine, U.S. officials said.
U.S. European Command labeled the incident as “dangerous” and said it could “lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
“At approximately 7:03 AM (CET), 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,” U.S. European Command said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
EUCOM said the incident “demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”
The incident is apparently the latest in what EUCOM labeled a “a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea.”
And it stressed that “These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
“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,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
“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 added.
A White House spokesman said Tuesday that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the incident earlier in the day by his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council told reporters that while it is “not an uncommon occurrence” for Russian aircraft to intercept American military aircraft over the Black Sea Tuesday’s incident was “unique”.
Kirby said that while there have been other incidents over the Black Sea in recent weeks ” this one obviously is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was indeed reckless that it was in causing the downing of one of our aircraft, so it’s unique in that regard.”
The United States regularly flies manned and unmanned surveillance flights in international airspace close to Ukraine without entering its 12 mile territorial limit.
The flights are part of the overall U.S. intelligence effort to obtain information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has dragged on for 13 months.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday afternoon the U.S. was “engaging directly with the Russians” to communicate objections to what he called the country’s “unsafe, unprofessional intercept” and a “brazen violation of international law.
“We are summoning the Russian ambassador to the department where we will convey this message,” he said, adding, “In Moscow, meanwhile, Ambassador Tracy has conveyed a strong message to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the American drone flying “in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation” and that fighter jets were sent to intercept it.
“As a result of sharp maneuvering, the U.S. drone went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” said the Russian statement..
“The Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their base airfield,” it added.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder did not have specifics on what portion of the Russian fighter jets collided with the American drone but said that the Russian aircraft were able to land after the collision though he did not provide details.
Ryder did not have any information about a possible U.S. military recovery effort of any sensitive technologies that may have been aboard the drone but he noted that as of now Russia had not recovered the drone.
ABC News’ Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.