EXPLAINED | What happened to the U.S. drone downed near Ukraine?

Russia and the United States have offered different accounts of the downing of a U.S. intelligence drone in the Black Sea

Updated - March 15, 2023 06:08 pm IST

Published - March 15, 2023 01:48 pm IST - MOSCOW

This undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an MQ-9 Reaper. File

This undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an MQ-9 Reaper. File | Photo Credit: AP

Russia and the United States have offered different accounts of the downing of a U.S. intelligence drone in the Black Sea.


The United States announced on March 14 that one of its MQ-9 "Reaper" intelligence and surveillance drones had been struck by a Russian Su-27 fighter. According to the U.S. Department of Defence, the Russian fighter hit the drone's propeller forcing U.S. forces to bring the drone down.

"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," James B. Hecker, Commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said.

"This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional," Mr. Hecker said.

The United States said the drone was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by the Russian aircraft.


Russia said the MQ-9 drone was flying near Crimea — which Russia annexed in 2014 — and heading towards territories which Russia considers its own.

"As a result of sharp manoeuvring around 9.30 Moscow time, the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into an uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water," Russia's Defence Ministry said.

Russia said the transponders of the drone had been turned off and that fighters had been scrambled to identify it.

"Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to the home airfield."

Russia's Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said the drone's fight was unacceptable.

"The unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern," Mr. Antonov said. "We are well aware of the missions such reconnaissance and strike drones are used for."

"If, for example, a Russian strike-drone appeared near New York or San Francisco, how would the US Air Force and Navy react?" Mr. Antonov asked.

He said the United States should stop flying drones so close to "Russian borders".


According to the U.S. Air Force, the Reaper is "employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets".

"Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons, it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets," the Air Force says.

"Reapers can also perform the following missions and tasks: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy and raid overwatch, route clearance, target development, and terminal air guidance.

"The MQ-9's capabilities make it uniquely qualified to conduct irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives."

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.