What is known about the US drone shot down by Russia?

The MQ-9 Reaper drone, armed with laser-guided munitions and missiles, during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone, armed with laser-guided munitions and missiles, during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.

Photo: EFE – Leslie Pratt

Russia and the United States staged a new episode of tensions in the midst of relations already worn by the war in Ukraine. A US drone that was flying over international waters near Russian jurisdiction was shot down and served as a reason for officials and diplomatic members of both Moscow and Washington to increase hostility between the two nations.

Although both sides have maintained open communication channels regarding what happened, this is the first physical contact between the US military and Russia in more than a year of war in Ukraine. What is known so far?

Around 7 am this Tuesday, a US intelligence drone was flying over the Black Sea, an area bordering the Crimean peninsula and eastern Europe. The ship, which was not manned, was transiting international airspace, although the Kremlin has indicated that the drone was heading towards Russian territory.

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The aircraft could not be identified because, according to the Russian military, it had its identification equipment turned off. For this reason, the Pentagon points out, Russia ordered two Su-27 fighter jets to “intercept” his drone.

Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, specified that the two fighters involved in this incident flew close to the MQ-9 for between half an hour and 40 minutes and insisted that although this type of interception is common, what is not normal was the behavior of the Russian pilots, according to him.

Rryder specified that the Russian fighter hit the propeller of the MQ-9 drone, which caused it to deteriorate and cause its subsequent “loss”. The Pentagon also explained that several times before that collision, Russian planes had dumped fuel and flown in front of the drone “recklessly.”

The damage caused by the hit led the United States to make the decision to crash the drone. With the crash, according to Ryder, without going into details, the United States estimates that the Russian fighter was also damaged.

The United States uses the MQ-9 Reapers drone for both surveillance and strike purposes, and has long operated in the Black Sea to screen for the presence of Russian naval forces. The Kremlin has accused these reconnaissance missions as a risk to its military tactics against Ukraine.

According to previous statements, Russia told the United States to do intelligence work near Ukraine to provide information to Volodimir Zelensky so that the Ukrainian president could attack strategic targets.

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“Our drone MQ-9 was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and struck by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and total loss of the MQ-9,” said Force Commander General James Hecker. United States air in Europe and Africa.

The general told the Russians to “behave in a safe and professional manner.”

the reaper drone

He New York Times clarified that according to a senior US military command, the Reaper drone took off from an airbase in Romania “for a regularly scheduled reconnaissance mission.” This version collected by the American newspaper would show that it is not the first time that intelligence drones have flown over eastern Europe.

Even US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin backed up this claim. Austin explained, “The United States will continue to fly and operate where international law allows.”

For the Defense official, “this dangerous episode is part of a pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.”

So far, both Russia and the United States have indicated that they will search for the remains of the drone near Snake Island, an area that has been disputed between Zelensky and Putin since the start of the war.

“I don’t know if we will be able to find them, but we have to (…). We will surely dedicate ourselves to it. I hope we will succeed,” said Niklao Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council.

White House Homeland Security spokesman John Kirby responded to Russia, criticizing its refusal to take responsibility for the accident.

The senior official added that the United States is trying to recover the remains of the drone.

“Obviously, we don’t want to see anybody getting their hands on it other than us,” he said. “We have taken steps to protect our interests,” he added.

usual interceptions

Kirby said that interceptions by Russia in the Black Sea are common, but that this was “unsafe and unprofessional.”

Several NATO diplomats confirmed the incident, but said they do not expect an escalation of the confrontation.

A Western military source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said diplomatic channels between Russia and the United States can help mitigate the fallout.

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Russia’s offensive in Ukraine raises fears of a direct confrontation between Moscow and NATO, whose countries have supplied kyiv with weapons.

In recent years, the United States has lost several Reapers, including to hostile fire actions.

One such drone was shot down in 2019 when it was flying over Yemen with a surface-to-air missile fired by Houthi rebels, the US Central Command reported at the time.

The Reapers can be equipped with Hellfire missiles, as well as laser-guided bombs, and can fly more than 1,770 kilometers at altitudes of up to 15,000 meters, according to the US Air Force.

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