Washington says Russian plane downed US drone, Moscow denies it
Washington, Mar 14 (EFE).- The United States government said that one of its unmanned military aircraft crashed Tuesday in the Black Sea after a collision with a Russian fighter, but Moscow denied that any of its planes struck the MQ-9 drone.
“We are continuing to assess exactly what happened but I think based on the actions of the Russian pilots, it’s clear that it was unsafe, unprofessional. I think the actions speak for themselves,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said when a reporter asked if the US thought the collision was an accident.
The MQ-9, known as the Reaper, is a surveillance aircraft with a wingspan of 20 m (66 ft). The drone is capable of carrying weapons, but US officials did not say whether the craft that went down Tuesday was armed.
The encounter between the MQ-9 and two Russian Su-27 jets comes against the backdrop of ongoing fighting in Ukraine more than a year after Russia invaded its neighbor.
The incident took place at 7:03 am Central European Time (06:03 GMT) as the drone “was conducting routine operations in international airspace,” US Air Forces Europe said.
“One of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters,” USAF Gen. James B. Hecker said in a statement.
“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound, and unprofessional manner. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” the air force general said.
Ryder said that the Russian plane involved in the collision was likely damaged as well, adding that US forces were still working to recover the drone.
Russia’s defense ministry offered a radically different account.
The MQ-9, according to Moscow, was near Crimea and flying with its transponders off in the direction of the Russian border when the Su-27s scrambled to identify the intruder.
“As a result of quick maneuvering around 9.30 am (06:30 GMT), the MQ-9 drone went into an unguided flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“The Russian aircraft did not use onboard weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle, and returned safely to their home airfield,” the ministry said in a statement.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
The US ambassador in Moscow, Lynne Tracy, delivered a formal protest to the Russian government over the “brazen violation of international law,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“We are engaging directly with the Russians, again at senior levels, to convey our strong objections to this unsafe, unprofessional intercept, which caused the downing of the unmanned U.S. aircraft,” Price said.
He said that Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov had been summoned to the State Department. EFE mgr-er/dr