What’s known and not about US drone-Russian jet encounter

A Russian fighter jet collided with a large U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, triggering a diplomatic protest and concerns that Russia could recover sensitive technology.


World News

March 15, 2023 - 1:58 PM

An MQ-9 Reaper drone on Nov. 4, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. (John Moore/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When a Russian fighter jet collided with a large U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, it was a rare but serious incident that triggered a U.S. diplomatic protest and raised concerns about the possibility Russia could recover sensitive technology.

U.S. and Russian officials had conflicting accounts of the collision Tuesday between the MQ-9 Reaper drone and the Russian Su-27 fighter jet; each side blamed the other. A Pentagon spokesman raised the possibility that the Defense Department could eventually declassify and release video it has of the collision.

Russian authorities said Wednesday that they will try to recover the fragments of the drone. But National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN that the Reaper crashed into very deep water and he was not sure whether a recovery was possible.

A look at what’s known and what’s uncertain about the incident.


The Pentagon and U.S. European Command said that two Russian Su-27 aircraft dumped fuel on the MQ-9, which was conducting a routine surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace. They said the Russian jets flew around and in front of the drone several times for 30 to 40 minutes, and then one of the Russian aircraft “struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters.”

Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, said that the Russian jet’s actions “nearly caused both aircraft to crash.” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the collision likely also damaged the Russian fighter jet, but the Su-27 was able to land. He would not say where it landed.

The Pentagon said the drone was “well clear” of any Ukrainian territory, but did not provide details. A U.S. defense official said it was operating west of Crimea over the Black Sea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide mission details.

It’s not clear if the collision was an accident or intentional, but both sides agree the Russian aircraft were trying to intercept the drone.


The Russian Defense Ministry said the U.S. drone was flying near the Russian border and intruded in an area that was declared off limits by Russian authorities. It said that the Russian military scrambled fighters to intercept the U.S. drone. It claimed that “as a result of sharp maneuver, the U.S. drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude and collided with water surface.”

Russia has declared broad areas near Crimea off limits to flights. Ever since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and long before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Moscow has charged that U.S. surveillance planes were flying too close to its borders while ignoring the notices issued by Russia.

Nations routinely operate in international airspace and waters, and no country can claim limits on territory outside of its own border.

The ministry said the Russian aircraft were scrambled to intercept the drone but didn’t use their weapons and “didn’t come into contact” with it.