Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 Reaper aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea, March 14, 2023.
At approximately 7:03 a.m., Central European Time, one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters.
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.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.
“U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely,” Hecker added.
This incident follows a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea. These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation.
White House spokesman John Kirby said the National Security Adviser Jake Sullian had briefed President Biden. Kirby went on to say that the U.S. State Department would be speaking with their Russian counterparts and “expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept.”
Additionally, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the incident was a “brazen violation of international law.” The Russian ambassador to the U.S. was summoned to lodge a protest, and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has made similar protests in Moscow.
At press time, there has been no reaction from Moscow.
Kirby did say that the incident would not stop the U.S. from continuing the reconnaissance mission in the region.
“If the message is that they want to deter or dissuade us from flying, and operating in international airspace, over the Black Sea, then that message will fail,” Kirby said, adding “that is not going to happen.
“We’re going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace over international waters,” he said. “The Black Sea belongs to no one nation.”
In response to a question at a National Press Club event, Gen. David Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said this type of incident is of concern.
“Probably my biggest worry both there and in the Pacific is an aggressive Russia or China pilot or vessel captain, or something gets too close, doesn’t realize where they are, and causes a collision,” Berger said.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa routinely fly aircraft throughout Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with applicable host nation and international laws. In order to bolster collective European defense and security, these missions support Allied, partner, and U.S. national objectives.