WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Tensions between the U.S. and Russia heightened after a Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, causing American forces to bring the unmanned aircraft down in international waters.
The incident has sparked concerns, spurring anxiety in Washington and drumming up fears across the nation of a wider escalation between the two countries.
The Biden administration and lawmakers have blasted Russia for what they called an unprofessional and unsafe maneuver in which two Russian jets damaged a U.S. MQ-9, forcing it to crash land in the Black Sea Tuesday.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called the incident “another reckless act” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military.
While it’s unclear if this was a case of a rogue pilot or orders to engage, the U.S. European Command called the Russian actions “dangerous,” warning that they “could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said the two Russian jets were flying in the vicinity of the drone for 30 to 40 minutes, intentionally flying in front of it before one of the jets finally took out the drone’s propeller. There didn’t appear to be any communications between the aircraft before the collision, Ryder added.
Russia has denied the collision happened, claiming the U.S. drone must have been flying with its communications devices turned off.
The incident increases the risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation between the U.S. and Russia.
At the Pentagon, Ryder said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not yet spoken to his Russian counterpart.
Mark Esper, former U.S. secretary of defense, told NewsNation that the U.S.’s response to the incident depends on what Russia has to say both publicly and privately.
“I think that we should have a very clear, calm but forceful response to the Russians that this is bad behavior, it breaks international law, and it does risk unintended escalation.”
Rep. Mark Green, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told News Nation that this is bullying by Putin.
“These bullying actions from Vladimir Putin happened for really, honestly years,” Green said. “This happens all the time. Today, unfortunately, it resulted in the destruction of our drones. So, I guess, in some sense, an escalation.”
National Security Council Communications Coordinator John Kirby acknowledged that it’s not uncommon for Russian aircraft to intercept U.S. aircraft in that region, but said this crash is unique in how “unsafe, unprofessional and reckless” it was.
Kirby also said it’s the first time it’s resulted in the “splashing” of a U.S. drone.
Ryder said it appeared the Russian aircraft also was damaged in the collision, but the U.S. has confirmed that it did land, although he would not say where.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the U.S. drone was flying over the Black Sea near Crimea and intruded in an area that was declared off-limits by Russia as part of what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, causing the military to scramble fighters to intercept it.
Kirby emphasized that the incident wouldn’t deter the U.S. from continuing its missions in the area.
The incident is also the first time a Russian and U.S. military aircraft have come into direct contact since Russia invaded Ukraine.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and NATO allies were notified.
The MQ-9 Reaper drones have gathered intelligence in the region since before the war began. The U.S. Air Force said they clime up to 50,000 feet, have a 66-foot wingspan and carry 4,000 pounds of fuel.
The Air Force cited the unit costs as much as $56.5 million, including four aircraft with sensors, a ground control station and satellite link.
The Pentagon said it has wiped the drone’s software and is considering salvaging the wreckage.
The Hill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.