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The Russian strike on an unmanned US drone was probably “unintentional” and not a deliberate effort to escalate tensions between the superpowers, an expert has said. Inexperienced Russian Su-27 pilots may also be to blame for the destruction of the drone, according to Kervin Aucoin – founder of the private intelligence company Aucoin Analytics.

Mr Aucoin, who worked with drones including the MQ-9 during a military career spanning 15 years, said the Russian pilots performed a common manoeuvre for intercepting manned aircraft but one which “made no sense” for confronting the unmanned UAV.

“Two Russian SU-27 fighter jets intercepted the MQ-9 Reaper, dumped fuel – probably in an attempt to down the aircraft without using munitions – then proceeded to manoeuvre one jet in front of the MQ-9 while the other trailed closely behind, as a way to intercept the drone,” Mr Aucoin told

“This is a typical manoeuvre but usually between adversarial manned aircraft, not unmanned devices. Initially the fuel dump appears to be a tactic to down the drone without using a weapon thus having plausible deniability.”

But the actual drone strike was likely a result of pilot error, according to Mr Aucoin.

He said: “I have seen nothing in the information I have that shows the pilots were directed to hit the MQ-9. The pilots seem to be inexperienced, possibly younger – I don’t know this for sure [I’m] just speculating – and, in an attempt to intercept the drone, unintentionally came in contact with the MQ-9.”

He added that the Reaper drone would still not be able to defend itself against Russian fighters, as it lacks the manoeuvrability of a fighter jet. The Pentagon has refused to say whether this drone was armed, however, Mr Aucoin believes that it was on a “surveillance only” mission.

“The manoeuvre the Russian pilots made makes no sense as the SU-27 is faster, more agile, and better equipped than the MQ-9 so the pilots simply could have escorted the drone out of the area if necessary,” the host of the This Week Explained podcast said.

But the US operators would have likely “pushed back” against Russian demands before eventually conceding, according to Mr Aucoin.

The destruction of the Reaper drone, whether intentional or not, has sparked a diplomatic crisis which saw the US State Department summon Russia‘s ambassador to explain himself.

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Ambassador Anatoly Antonov called the episode a “provocation” after being summoned, according to Russia‘s RIA state news agency.

Russia, for its part, has maintained that its fighters “did not come into contact” with the drone. Washington said Moscow did not have the wreckage but declined to comment on whether the US would attempt to recover the downed aircraft.

The plane was most likely performing surveillance over the Crimean Peninsula, according to Mr Aucoin. The US and NATO allies have provided Ukraine with intelligence up to and following Russia‘s invasion of the country in February of last year.

Russia wants to protect Crimea and, from the black sea, the US can gather intelligence on that region for the Ukrainians and could provide information that would lead to a possible offensive on Crimea,” Mr Aucoin said, adding: “Russia has made it a point to protect Crimea, at all costs.”

Still, he believes, neither side wants to “make this into an incident that leads to a violent global conflict”.

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