Pentagon releases video of US drone interception
STORY: De-classified video released by the Pentagon shows Tuesday's (March 14) mid-air incident between a U.S. spy drone and a Russian fighter jet in international airspace over the Black Sea.
A Russian aircraft can be seen approaching the American "Reaper" drone which operators say they then had to crash into the waters of the Black Sea.
The Pentagon said the video was edited by the U.S. military for length, but shows events in a sequential order.
U.S. officials had earlier described how two Russian jets first harried and dumped fuel on the unmanned vehicle, before the eventual collision, which is not shown on the released video.
The incident prompted a rare direct call between military leaders in Washington and Moscow.
"I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Shoigu."
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday (March 15) said he'd spoken with Russia's defense minister.
"The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent on Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner."
U.S. General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was not yet clear whether the collision was intentional or accidental.
"Was it intentional or not? Don't know yet. We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it was very unprofessional, and very unsafe. The actual contact of the fixed-wing Russian fighter with our UAV, the physical contact of those two, not sure yet. That remains to be seen."
Russia's defense ministry claimed the American drone was heading toward Russian-held territory, and said there was no collision, asserting the drone crashed all on its own.
The incident has been a reminder of the dangers of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine, which Western allies are supporting with intelligence and weapons.
"We've been waiting for this sort of thing to happen for some time. It's surprising it hasn't already happened."
Professor Michael Clarke is the former director-general of the Royal United Services Institute in London.
"The United States has been flying drones in open airspace across the Black Sea, as they're perfectly legally entitled to do. The Russians have been trying to disrupt them and buzz them for months. It was only a matter of time."
Despite Russian denials, Clarke told Reuters he believed the collision was real, if unintended.
"This almost certainly, I'm ninety-nine percent certain, was an accident. Pilot error. The Su-27 pilot who can deliberately and safely fly his plane into the propeller of a Reaper drone hasn't yet been born. So I'm sure it's an accident, and that pilot's very lucky."
Russia said it would try to recover the drone wreckage from the sea.
General Milley said the waters where the drone splashed down were four to five thousand feet deep, making any recovery attempt difficult.
He added that measures were taken before the crash to ensure no sensitive information could be gleaned from the wreckage.