The US is conducting an assessment of its drone operations in the Black Sea area, weighing the costs and benefits of the flights after Russia forced down one of the aircraft earlier this week, several officials told CNN.
The US has not stopped the flights entirely while it completes the analysis — the military sent the same model of drone, an MQ-9 Reaper, on a mission in approximately the same area over the Black Sea shortly after the collision occurred, US officials said. That aircraft was meant to survey the crash site and monitor Russians looking for the debris.
But the US military is “taking a close look” at the drones’ routes and assessing how to better reduce the risk of conflict with Russia’s military, which regularly flies fighter jets in and out of Crimea, the officials said.
The Pentagon plans to analyze the overall costs and benefits of flying these missions, comparing the potential intelligence value of a particular route versus the risk of escalation with Russia.
There is concern among some in the US military that limiting drone routes will impact intelligence gathering related to the Ukraine war, the senior military official said. But the US has potential alternatives for gathering the intel, such as spy satellites.
The US is considering another drone flight over the Black Sea in the coming days, the officials said, which would be consistent with its typical operating schedule.
More background: The collision between the Russian Su-27 fighter jets and the US drone happened around 40-50 nautical miles southwest of Crimea, over the Black Sea in international airspace, the US Air Force said Thursday.
Russia accused the US of violating airspace they claim to have created for their “special military operation” in Ukraine—a designation the US does not accept. The officials also said Russia has not communicated any such airspace restriction.
New footage released by the Pentagon on Thursday shows the Russian fighter jets rapidly approaching the drone, pouring fuel on it, and appearing to damage the drone’s propellor. The US was forced to take the drone down over the Black Sea after the impact made it effectively inoperable, officials said.