The U.S. Air Force has released a video it purports to show a Russian jet intercepting and dumping fuel on a U.S. drone over the Black Sea.
it says two Russian Su-27 jets flew close to the MQ-9 Reaper before one hit its propeller, forcing the remote operator to crash it into the sea.
Tuesday’s events showed the growing risk of a direct confrontation between the superpowers as fighting continues in nearby Ukraine.
Retired Air Force Vice Marshal Sean Bell said the jet’s maneuvers were likely to “flush fuel into the drone’s engine and then take it out.”
“If he pulls the plane up, he’s not aerodynamic because he’s not flying very fast. … [the plane] Very close to the fuselage of the drone, almost certainly just clamping the propeller,” he told Sky News.
Mr Bell called the pilot “incompetent” but said the collision was likely an accident because it also put the Russian plane at risk.
The MQ-9 harvester – which has a 20m (66ft) wingspan and costs around $32m (£26m) – is typically used for surveillance but can also be armed.
U.S. officials have accused the Russian pilot of flying in a “reckless, environmentally unfriendly and unprofessional manner.”
Moscow denied the jets were behaving dangerously and said they had no contact with the drone, claiming it crashed due to a “sharp maneuver”.
It said the Reaper was flying towards the Russian border and its transponder – the wireless communication device – was switched off.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accused the United States of ignoring Russia’s flight restrictions over the Ukraine war.
The U.S. insists the drones are in international airspace and away from conflict zones.
The seriousness of the incident prompted the first telephone conversation between the defense ministers and senior commanders of the two countries since last October.
russians say It will attempt to recover the wreckage of the drone But no parts appear to have been found so far, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Washington said the plane plunged into water at a depth of about 1,200 to 1,500 meters and that steps had been taken to ensure no sensitive information was collected.
According to U.S. officials, there are no U.S. ships in the area, making it unlikely that it will conduct a recovery attempt on its own.
One day after the incident, British and German fighter jets scramble to intercept Russian plane Failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control.
Defense Ministry says it’s “routine” NATO mission.