Milley: U.S. May Not Be Able to Recover Drone Russian Jets Forced to Crash in Black Sea
America’s top military official on Wednesday downplayed the importance of recovering a surveillance drone the US says crashed in international waters in the Black Sea after a Russian fighter jet harassed and eventually collided with it – a dramatic aerial encounter adjacent to a war zone in Ukraine that risks bringing Russia and the US into direct conflict.
“We know where it landed,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday shortly after hosting a meeting of countries providing military support to Kyiv.
Recovering the downed drone MQ-9 Reaper would be difficult, Milley said, noting that the Black Sea in that area is as deep as 5,000 feet. The US also has limited assets in the region to try, after President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of the US Navy from the strategically critical waterway shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“It’s true we don’t have any ships there, but we do have a lot of allies and friends in the area,” Milley added. “It probably broke up, so there’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly.”
“As normal we would – and we did – take mitigative measures” to prevent any opposing country from recovering classified materials, Milley added. “We are quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value.”
Austin noted that he had just spoken to his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to whom he imparted American frustration with Russia’s “pattern of risky and aggressive behavior.”
“It’s important that great powers be models of transparency and communication,” Austin said.
Although US officials have issued stern rebukes of the Russian jets’ activity, they have refrained from the kind of rhetoric that could cause the incident to escalate – a tone Austin and Milley continued on Wednesday.
The Russian government, however, appears eager to capitalize on the encounter to push its false narratives about Western support for Kyiv, chiefly that the US has a military presence in and around Ukraine that merits retaliation from Moscow.
Moments before Milley and Austin spoke, the Russian Embassy in the UK posted a tweet citing Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev, who said, according to the post, “The situation with the [American] reconnaissance drone MQ-9 confirmed that the US is directly involved in the Ukraine conflict.
The encounter took place early Tuesday local time, when two Su-24 jets intercepted the drone, known in military parlance as an “unmanned aerial vehicle” or UAV. The jets flew close to it, dumped fuel on it and eventually collided with its propeller, at which time its operator crash-landed it in the sea.
While provocative, it remains unclear whether the fighter jet planned to cause the drone to crash.
“We know the intercept was intentional, we know the aggressive behavior was intentional,” Milley said. “The actual contact of the Russian fighter with our UAV, the physical contact of those two – not sure yet. Remains to be seen.