THE US has slammed what it’s called the “brazen” taking down of one of its drones by a Russian fighter jet.
The US military has warned that the incident is one of several recent “aggressive” and “dangerous” actions by Russia that risk “escalation” into war.
The drone was taken down while flying over the Black Sea near Russian occupied Crimea and the Ukraine frontline.
A Russian Su-27 jet struck the propeller of the MQ-9 Reaper drone resulting in it crash landing in the sea and its loss, the US European Command said.
Prior to the collision, which happened at 7am local time, two Su-27s had “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9” in a “reckless” and “unprofessional” manner.
“This incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with US and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea,” said the command.
“These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US has contacted the Russians to complain about what he called the country’s “brazen violation of international law”.
US Air Force General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa condemned the Russian action.
“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,” he said.
“In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the Russian planes had been stalking the drone prior to the collision.
“It seems like approximately 30 to 40 minutes they were flying in the vicinity of this MQ-9,” he said.
The incident appeared to mark the first time since the height of the Cold War that a US aircraft was brought down after being hit by a Russian warplane.
The collision marks the first physical contact between the US and Russian militaries as a result of the Ukraine war.
The Russians said the drone manoeuvred sharply and crashed into water after its fighter jets were scrambled to intercept it near Crimea
Moscow denied its warplanes came into contact with the drone and insisted they didn’t fire their weapons to shoot down the drone, which would have been an act of war.
The area where the incident is believed to be where there is intense NATO military activity close to the frontlines of the Ukraine war.
White House spokesman John Kirby said the Russians have previously intercepted drones but this one was notable because it caused the downing of a US aircraft.
“So it’s unique in that regard,” Kirby added.
“The State Department will be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts, and expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept.”
Russia’s Defence 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 US drone went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” said the ministry..
“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.”
The United States uses MQ-9 Reapers for both surveillance and strikes and has operated the drones in a variety of location, including in the Middle East and Africa.
Other countries, including Britain and France, also fly Reapers.
Several US MQ-9s have been lost in recent years, including to hostile action.
One was shot down in 2019 over Yemen with a surface-to-air missile fired by Huthi rebels, who also unsuccessfully fired on another of the drones a few days later.
According to media reports, a US MQ-9 crashed in Libya in 2022.
Another went down during a training exercise in Romania earlier in the year and another was lost over Libya in 2019.