Allegations that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet crashed into a US MQ-9 Reaper, sending the drone crashing into the Black Sea, have heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.
In Tuesday’s incident, the Pentagon claimed that the Russian fighter jet, in an “unprofessional” move, sprayed fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper, flew in front of it and then hit one of the drone’s propellers, causing it to crash.
Russia, on the other hand, denied the allegations, arguing that the drone maneuvered sharply and lost altitude.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s statement claimed that the fighter jet did not use weapons, did not make contact with the drone and returned to base.
The Kremlin also claimed that the US drone flew with its transponders turned off and violated the “temporary situation zone” in the Black Sea. The US, on the other hand, argued that the drone was flying in international airspace and that they did not have to inform Russia about this.
We have compiled the curious things about what happened in three questions:
1 – What features does the MQ-9 Reaper have?
The MQ-9 Reaper, which made its first flight in 2001, is produced by California-based General Atomics.
The body of the drone, which is remotely controlled by two-person teams working at military bases in the US, is 11 meters long.
With a 22-meter wingspan, the drone can carry 16 Hellfire model missiles.
The $32 million MQ-9 Reaper, which is mostly used for intelligence gathering, can fly for up to 24 hours at an altitude of 15 kilometers over targets.
With a range of 1850 kilometers, the drone can also launch precision attacks on targets during missions.
2 – What was the drone doing in the Black Sea?
US military drones in the Black Sea are only used for intelligence gathering.
An analysis by the BBC, the UK’s public broadcaster, suggests that the MQ-9 Reaper may have been gathering information for Ukraine in the Black Sea.
However, the Pentagon has not yet shared detailed information about the drone’s mission. Following the incident, the US European Command (EUCOM) issued the following statement:
“Our MQ-9 drone was intercepted and shot down by a Russian aircraft while conducting routine operations in international airspace. The MQ-9 was lost in the collision.”
Washington reported that the operators had to land the drone in the Black Sea, while it is not yet clear what happened to the vehicle.
While Russia has not announced any operation to retrieve the wreckage of the drone, Pentagon spokesman General Patrick Ryder said, “As far as I know, Russia has not yet captured the aircraft.”
The BBC’s assessment is that Ukraine needs a steady flow of information and intelligence in its war against Russia, and that Washington would not want its sensitive drone to fall into the hands of the Kremlin.
3 – Will it increase tensions between the US and Russia?
Russia has maintained that the fighter jet did not attack the drone or make any contact with it, but the Kremlin’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antanov, called the incident a “provocation”.
Antanov, who was summoned to the US State Department on Tuesday, said in a statement after the meeting:
“The American drone was deliberately and provocatively heading towards Russian territory with its transponders turned off. We consider this incident a provocation. We are concerned about the unacceptable activities of the US military near our borders. They gather intelligence, which is then used by the Kiev regime to attack our armed forces and territory.”
Antonov added that Moscow does not want to get into a confrontational situation with Washington.
The US, on the other hand, argued that the drone was in international airspace in the Black Sea at the time of the incident. John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the White House National Security Council, said in a statement:
“We will continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters. The Black Sea belongs to no nation. We will continue to do what we need to do for our national security interests in this part of the world.”
Dara Massicot of the RAND Corporation, a US-based think tank, argued that the incident was part of the “threat signals” that Russia has long been sending against the United States. Massicot also said it was the first time a Russian jet had sprayed fuel on a NATO drone.
Mary Ellen O’Connel of the University of Notre Dame in the US said, “Most likely, the Reaper was gathering intelligence for Ukraine. Under the laws of war, Russia can block such assistance.”
A BBC analysis said the incident “represents a moment fraught with danger” and described it as “the most high-profile public clash between Washington and the Kremlin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.