US Air National Guard/Staff Sgt. Joseph Pagan
- A Russian fighter jet hit a US military drone on Tuesday, forcing it to crash into the Black Sea.
- The Su-27 clipped the MQ-9 Reaper drone’s propeller after harassing it in international airspace.
- It’s unclear if the US will be able to recover the aircraft, a White House official said Wednesday.
The US may not be able to recover a military drone that crashed into the Black Sea after it was struck by a Russian warplane, a top White House official said on Wednesday.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that the US has not yet recovered its MQ-9 Reaper drone from the Black Sea just one day after the incident, during which the aircraft was harassed by a pair of Russian Su-27 fighter jets before one ran into it while it was operating in international airspace.
“I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to recover it. I mean, where it fell into the Black Sea, very, very deep water. We’re still assessing whether there can be any recovery effort mounted. There may not be,” Kirby told CNN. “We did the best we could to minimize any intelligence value that might come from somebody else getting their hands on that drone.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at a Tuesday briefing that the drone had not been recovered by the Russians, but he did not have any additional information to provide on possible US recovery efforts. Washington normally deploys assets to recover sensitive military equipment whenever it is able to and even has special machines to save specific weapons.
During the Tuesday incident, two Russian Su-27 jets conducted what US European Command described was an “unsafe and unprofessional intercept” of the Reaper drone as it flew in international airspace over the Black Sea. The Russian fighters dumped fuel on and flew in front of the US aircraft several times before one of the jets clipped the Reaper’s propeller.
The collision forced the US military to bring the aircraft down in international waters. US Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said that this incident resulted in “a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9” and said the Russian actions almost caused both aircraft to crash.
Ryder added that the Su-27, which struck the Reaper, likely suffered its own damage as well and went on to land at an undisclosed location.
Ned Price, the US State Department spokesperson, told reporters later on Tuesday that the Russian maneuver displayed “a lack of competence,” but he could not speak to possible intentions of the pilots. Moscow blamed the US for the incident, which its ambassador to the US slammed as a “provocation.”
Tuesday’s crash marked the most direct confrontation between the US and Russia since the latter carried out its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It was also the latest in a string of provocative and aggressive Russian actions against NATO militaries around the Black Sea, where intercepts, including unsafe intercepts, are fairly common.