White House says Russian pilot who ran into a US drone and broke it was, at best, 'an idiot'
Russian pilots who intercepted and harassed a US drone last week were presented with awards.
When asked at a briefing about the awards, a top White House official ripped into the pilots.
"If that's bravery, then I guess they got a different definition of it," John Kirby said.
The White House has delivered its sharpest criticism yet of a Russian pilot who flew a fighter jet into a US military drone, with a top official slamming the individual as, at best, "an idiot."
Russia's defense ministry presented awards last week to two pilots who intercepted and harassed a US military MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea a few days earlier. One of the pilots of the Su-27 fighter jet clipped the drone, breaking its propeller and forcing the US to crash it into the waters below.
When asked by a reporter during a Wednesday press briefing about his thoughts on the awards, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby ripped into Russia over the incident and did not hold back in harshly criticizing the pilot.
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"I don't know of another military in the world — another air force in the world — that would award a pilot for smashing into a drone," Kirby said. "If that's bravery, then I guess they got a different definition of it. It's ludicrous, it's insulting.
"Now, we don't know whether that pilot was trying to intentionally ram that drone or not, but he did — video evidence was pretty conclusive," he continued.
"In the navy I grew up in, you don't want to hit anything. Hitting anything is bad for you," a visibly flabbergasted Kirby added. "I'm sorry, I got to throw the flag on this one. I have no clue why they would give a bravery award to a pilot, who was at worst, maliciously putting himself and US property at great risk, and at best, just an idiot."
It's likely that Moscow was attempting to send a message to the US by harassing the drone, based on expert assessments of similar behavior from Russia in the past. But State Department spokesperson Ned Price last week also said that the incident was indicative of "a lack of competence."
What transpired, assuming it wasn't an intentional collision, could also be an indication Russia "has a problem with its fighter pilots," two former US Navy aviators recently told Insider.
"This is just egg on the face for Russia," said Guy "Bus" Snodgrass, a former TOPGUN instructor. "There's no doubt about it." He added that "we've known they were unprofessional," but the incident really "demonstrates how poorly trained" their pilots are.
Though the US military has said that it will continue to conduct surveillance operations with drones over the Black Sea, US officials told CNN that the drones will be flown farther away from Russia and occupied Crimea for the time being in order to "to avoid being too provocative."
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