Yesterday, a Russian jet struck the propeller of a U.S. Reaper drone over the Black Sea, forcing its remote pilots to bring down the drone, multiple media sources reported. As far as
we are aware, this is the first known direct military confrontation between the two nations’ forces since the war in Ukraine began more than a year ago.
The Reaper is an unmanned aircraft capable of about 1,500 miles of unmanned flight. Before the collision, which occurred around 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, two Russian Su-27s “dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” said the U.S. European Command in a statement reported by the Wall Street Journal. “This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional,” said the EUCOM, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the region.
“These aggressive actions by Russian aircrew are dangerous and could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation,” the statement added.
The United States has been supplying lethal aid to Ukraine ever since President Trump OK’d it back in June of 2019 and since the 2022 Russian invasion President Biden – and Congress – have supplied over $100 billion that has already be spent for supplies and support for Ukraine.
As our friend Stephen Bryen wrote in an article for Weapons and Strategy, “That does not include the staggering bill for the AWACS and surveillance aircraft flights, the satellites, and communications, the command and control, the intelligence operations and everything else the administration is hiding under the rug. When you take that into account, and price it into the US defense budget, the real 2024 proposed defense budget is in deficit compared to 2023 (which was, itself, well below what is needed even for deterrence). Americans are barely aware the US is paying the salaries of the Ukrainian government and its military.”
So far, all of this support has been supplied at a distance, with no armed U.S. forces involved.
While the Russians might reasonably call this aid an act of war, both sides have pretended that this proxy war isn’t really a war, because the two sides haven’t been shooting at each other directly.
But that all changed on Tuesday when the Russians knocked down our drone, which begs the question why now and why that particular drone? After all, American AWACS planes and satellites are supplying crucial intelligence to the Ukrainians – and have been for a year or longer.
So, what changed?
One theory is that – if you take the EUCOM statement at face value – the Russian pilots were “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional” implying that it was the pilots perhaps going rogue and not the Russian government or military command that made the decision to down the drone.
The other explanation – which we are more inclined to accept – is that while the incident happened in international airspace, it was not far from the battles raging on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, and the Russians decided sending an armed American drone to loiter off the battlefield where their troops are engaged in combat was an unacceptable escalation that moved the US from proxy to combatant status.
You see the Reaper MQ-9 isn’t just a surveillance drone, like the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, it’s more typically a combat drone.
The MQ-9 Reaper’s payload can consist of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II, and GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions – exactly the kind of payload that could tilt the tactical situation in the ongoing battle at Bakhmut in favor of Ukraine.
The UK’s Daily Mail reported that the Russian ambassador had been summoned by the White House to discuss the incident, said State Department spokesman Ned Price, calling it a “brazen violation of international law.”
White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby, said that the State Department “will be speaking directly with their Russian counterparts, and expressing our concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional intercept.”
“If the message is that they want to deter or dissuade us from flying, operating in international airspace over the Black Sea, then that message will fail,” said Kirby.
“We don't need to have some sort of check-in with the Russians before we fly in international airspace. There's no requirement to do that nor do we do it,” Kirby added.
Fair point, and we also send warship through the Taiwan Strait to preserve our navigation rights, even though it prompts protests and harassment by the Red Chinese. However, in the past we have conducted "deconfliction" talks with the Russians, most notably regarding operations in Syria, in order to avoid accidental engagements.
What's more, while the United States is not sailing warships in the Black Sea to avoid accidental engagement with the Russians, the Daily Mail reports we have routinely been flying surveillance aircraft in and around the area.
So far, the Biden administration hasn’t said if the drone was armed or not, but we note for the record that the previous “routine” surveillance flights over the Black Sea have been unmolested by the Russians, even though they are clearly detrimental to their battlefield success.
If Joe Biden is sending armed U.S. drones to loiter in international airspace as if they are ready to enter the battle on behalf of Ukraine that is not an “unintended escalation,” it’s a step closer to getting the United States into World War III.
The Capitol Switchboard is (202) 224-3121 we urge CHQ readers and friends to call their Representative and Senators to demand they explain what American vital interest is being defended in Ukraine. And Congress should further demand to know whether the Reaper was armed, and if it was, why, if we don’t send warships into the Black Sea to avoid engaging the Russians, we would send an armed drone to the area to have the Air Force risk the same kind of engagement the Navy is trying to avoid?
Reaper MQ-9 Drone
Joe Biden foreign policy
Russia Ukraine war
Eurasian National Bolshevism