One of a pair of Russian jets struck a US spy drone and knocked it out of the sky on Tuesday, the Pentagon disclosed. It’s one of the first direct military conflicts between the two countries since the war in Ukraine began.
Early in the morning local time, two Russian Su-27 jet fighters and a US MQ-9 surveillance drone that took off from Romania flew close to each other for about a half hour in international airspace.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a defense official said one of the Russian jet fighters then made a “juvenile” decision. It dumped fuel on the drone before pulling away. The second jet fighter moved in to do the same, but it collided with the drone instead.
Operators guided the drone down to a crash landing in the water as a result of damage taken.
The US hasn’t recovered the wreckage yet and officials haven’t disclosed any operation underway to do so.
Pentagon officials said the collision appeared to be unintentional though completely preventable.
“This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” said U.S. European Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the area.
The State Department immediately set up a meeting between Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried. The US envoy in Moscow also met with the Russian foreign minister, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Russian officials disputed the US military’s version of events, saying it sent jet fighters to the area after the drone flew into Crimean airspace.
The collision occurred roughly 50 nautical miles southwest of Crimea, and the drone landed a further 10 miles southwest from that point, a U.S. defense official said.
The US regularly flies drones in the Black Sea, and Russian craft regularly track them. But this marks the first time there has been a collision or instance of reckless engagement between the two countries.
Repercussions for Russia have reportedly not been discussed.