U.S., Russia air crash: What is known
When is it? Russian fighter A large U.S. surveillance drone crashed in the Black Sea on Tuesday, a rare but serious incident that sparked a U.S. diplomatic outcry and raised fears that Russia could recover sensitive technology.
US and Russian officials had conflicting accounts of the collision between an MQ-9 Reaper drone and a Russian Su-27 fighter jet, with each blaming the other. But a Pentagon spokesman raised the possibility that the Defense Department may eventually declassify and release video of the encounter.
Defense officials said the drone was not found. But the Pentagon declined to say whether efforts are underway to collect the Reaper debris or pieces.
Here’s what is known, and uncertain, about the crash.
WHAT THE US SAYS happened
The Pentagon and US European Command said two Russian Su-27 jets refueled the MQ-9, which was conducting routine surveillance over the Black Sea in international airspace. They say Russian jets flew around and in front of the drone several times for 30 to 40 minutes, and then one of the Russian jets “hit the MQ-9’s propeller, forcing US forces to downgrade the MQ-9.” h. in international waters”.
US Air Force Europe and Africa Air Force Commander James Hacker said the actions of the Russian jet “nearly caused the downing of two planes”. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the collision likely damaged the Russian fighter as well, but the Su-27 was able to land. He did not say where it fell.
The Pentagon said the drone had been “cleared well” from any Ukrainian territory, but did not provide details. A US defense official said it was operating west of Crimea across the Black Sea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the mission.
It is not clear whether the collision was accidental or intentional, but both sides agree that the Russian plane was trying to intercept the drone.
WHAT IS RUSSIA SAYING?
The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported that the American drone flew near the Russian border and invaded the territory, which was declared forbidden by the Russian authorities. It says the Russian military used fighter jets to intercept the American drone. It claimed that “as a result of a sharp maneuver, the American drone lost altitude and went into an uncontrollable flight and crashed into the surface of the water.”
Russia has a no-fly zone over large areas near Crimea. Since annexing Crimea in 2014 and long before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Moscow has accused American surveillance planes of flying too close to its borders, ignoring Russian warnings.
Nations regularly operate in international airspace and waters, and no country can claim restrictions on areas beyond its borders.
The ministry said the Russian plane tried to intercept the drone, but did not use its weapons and “did not interact” with it.
WHAT IS THE MQ-9 REAPER?
The MQ-9 Reaper is a large unmanned Air Force aircraft remotely piloted by a two-man team. It includes a ground control station and satellite equipment and has a wingspan of 66 feet (20 meters). The team includes a rated pilot responsible for piloting the aircraft and a crew member responsible for operating sensors and guiding weapons.
Constantly used for surveillance and air strikes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Reaper can be armed or unarmed. It can carry up to eight laser-guided missiles, including Hellfire missiles and other sophisticated munitions, and can hover over targets for around 24 hours. It is about 36 feet long, 12 feet high, and weighs about 4,900 pounds (11 meters long, 4 meters high, and 2,200 kilograms). It can fly at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) and has a range of about 1,400 nautical miles (2,500 kilometers).
The Reaper, which first became operational in 2007, replaced the Air Force’s smaller Predator drones. Each Reaper costs about $32 million.
WITH DIPLOMATIC POWDER
The collision caused a diplomatic protest.
On Tuesday, the US State Department invited Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov to a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Karen Donfried.
“We are working directly with the Russians, again at the highest levels, to convey our strong objections to this unsafe, unprofessional detention that led to the downing of an American drone,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
And White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US “will raise our concerns about this unsafe and unprofessional wiretapping.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not spoken to his Russian counterpart about the incident, Ryder said.
IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.
This is not the first time Russian jets have flown so close to US planes in the Black Sea that the Pentagon has publicly condemned the incident for putting crews at risk. In 2020, Russian jets crossed in front of a B-52 bomber flying over the Black Sea and flew about 100 feet (30 meters) in front of the bomber’s nose, causing turbulence.
Russian jets also hit American warships during exercises in the Black Sea. In 2021, Russian warplanes attacked the Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook, which was participating in a major military exercise. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, U.S. warships deployed more frequently to the Black Sea in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.
However, largely military interceptions, either in the air or at sea, are common and have occurred several times with Russian aircraft in the Pacific, particularly in the North. Just last month, US fighter jets intercepted two Russian Tu-95 bombers in international airspace off the coast of Alaska and “escorted” them for 12 minutes, according to the Pentagon.
And Russian jets have carried out similar missions as well as striking US Navy ships in the Pacific. In most cases, wiretapping is considered safe and professional.
It is not clear whether the Russian pilots were willing to approach or refuel the Reaper because they knew it was unmanned and therefore posed no danger to the American pilot or crew. Intentionally destroying an aircraft, injuring or killing crew members, can be considered an act of war.
AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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