(CNN) The United States is flying reconnaissance drones south over the Black Sea after a Russian plane collided with an American drone last week, according to US officials.
Drone flights remained in international airspace, but since the collision between a Russian jet and an unmanned MQ-9 Reaper last Tuesday, the United States has moved drone flights away from the airspace surrounding Crimea and the eastern parts of the Black Sea. sea.
One of the officials said the knocking was part of an effort to “avoid extreme provocation” because the Biden administration remains anxious to avoid an incident that could escalate into a direct conflict between U.S. and Russian forces.
The official said the drone flights would continue in this manner “for the time being,” but added that there was already an “appetite” to return to routes closer to Russian-controlled territory. Officials also said Russia could try to unilaterally announce a broader closure of airspace around southern and eastern Ukraine in a bid to force more US drone flights.
On Tuesday, FlightRadar24, a commercial flight-tracking website, showed a Global Hawk RQ-4 remaining in the southern and southwestern parts of the Black Sea at an altitude of about 52,000 feet.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Tuesday that the United States continues to operate drones over the Black Sea “flying in international airspace consistent with international law.” But he refused to say whether the United States had changed course or the shape of its mission after a confrontation last week between a US spy drone and two Russian warplanes.
“I’m not going to go into detail about routes and missions and timings and things like that for operational security reasons,” Ryder told a news conference.
Last week, two Russian Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets harassed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone operating in international airspace over the Black Sea. One of the planes then hit the observation drone, damaging its propeller and crashing.
After the incident, CNN reported that the US is evaluating drone flights over the Black Sea to include potential routes, altitudes, risks, and more. The purpose of the assessment was to assess the intelligence gathered from the missions against the risk of escalation with Russia.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after the incident that the United States “will continue to fly and operate wherever international law allows.” Even while the US was conducting the assessment, officials said, another MQ-9 Reaper drone flew over the Black Sea in roughly the same area where the flight landed to survey the crash site.
Several days later, a US RQ-4 Global Hawk flew over the southern parts of the Black Sea, venturing into the eastern parts of the waterway near Russian territory, according to FlightRadar24.