Administration officials said the MQ-9 was flying over the Black Sea on a routine flight before it was flanked by two Russian jets.
The jets flew alongside the drone for 30 to 40 minutes before one of the jets flew in front of it and dumped fuel. One of the Kremlin jets then struck the drone’s propeller, forcing it to crash into the Black Sea.
While there have been a number of close-call incidents with Russian aircraft in the past, what makes this case unique is it involves an uncrewed U.S. aircraft, a detail that could keep tensions from blowing up, according to Becca Wasser, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.
“The incident is deeply concerning given the context in which it takes place, but the fact that it was an uncrewed platform is likely to reduce the chances of it boiling over,” she told The Hill.
Wasser pointed to a similar incident in 2019 when Iran shot down an RQ-4 Global Hawk, which did not result in a direct U.S. military response.
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