Pentagon May Tone Down Spy Flights Over International Waters In Black Sea Amid Russian Aggression: REPORT

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Department of Defense is considering tailoring back surveillance operations in the Black Sea amid Russian aggression, CNN reported, citing defense officials.

Planned drone flights over the international waters of the Black Sea are ongoing, and the Pentagon sent another MQ-9 Reaper near the same area where a Russian fighter jet struck a U.S. spy drone to survey the area and pick up on Russian attempts to recover the debris, CNN reported, citing U.S. officials. However, defense leaders are “taking a close look” at ways to reduce or restructure spying operations in the region to reduce the chances of further conflict, the officials, who have been flying their own jets in the Crimea, told the outlet.

The Pentagon requested the Air Force’s European Command to provide a defense of ongoing spy flights in the region as part of a broader risk assessment, a senior U.S. military official told CNN. (RELATED: Poland To Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine, Becoming First NATO Country To Do So)

U.S. officials plan to pit the costs of drone surveillance missions in the Black Sea, including certain routes that may run a higher risk of escalation with Russia, against the benefits of intelligence gathering on Russian activities, CNN reported. Some military officials have expressed concern that curtailing spy operations in the Black Sea could hamper collection related to the Ukraine war.

The U.S. military may conduct another drone flight — the second known operation since the Tuesday incident — in the coming days, which would not represent a change from the drones’ expected operating schedule, the officials said.

Top Biden administration officials have reiterated the U.S. military will continue to operate in international waters.

“I think Secretary Austin was pretty clear that we’re going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace where international law allows and that includes the Black Sea region,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing Thursday.

Moscow accused the U.S. of violating airspace it had boxed off for conducting the “special military operation” in Ukraine, although the U.S. does not accept that claim and the area in which the drone was operating is recognized as international airspace, the officials told CNN. They added that Russia had not formally communicated any airspace restriction to the U.S.

The Kremlin also denied that its jets came into contact with the drone, which contributed to the Pentagon’s decision to release camera footage from the collision, Ryder said.

“Our words and our actions speak for themselves, and similarly, Russia’s inaccurate information, false information, obfuscation, grasping at straws, changing narratives also speaks for itself,” Ryder said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the incident.

Milley said the Pentagon had not assessed whether the Russian jets deliberately made contact with the drone, but “no question” remains over whether the overall aggressive behavior was intentional.

Russian ships and aircraft have reached the area where the drone landed and are actively searching for the debris, although it is unlikely they can recover anything, Milley added.

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