Senator, former fighter pilot, says it wasn’t just Russian aggression that caused the mid-air crash

The crash between a Russian fighter jet and a US drone is likely due to the pilot’s aggression and “incompetence,” according to former astronaut and Navy captain Sen. Mark Kelly.

“Look at the level of incompetence — I mean, when we saw the flanker yesterday that was basically airborne with the MQ-9 [drone]with a Reaper … I spent 15 years in the astronaut office, I used to fly with Russian fighter pilots in the back seat of my plane,” said Kelly, D-AZ, Fox News’ chief political anchor and host of the “Special Report with Brett Baier” during an interview on Thursday. “I was shocked by the level of incompetence of the Russian pilots I have flown with.”

Russia has denied its plane crashed into the US drone, although video evidence shows the plane made at least two flybys, including one in which it appeared to dump fuel onto the drone before the supply was abruptly cut off and the Drone crashed into the drone Black Sea.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly presented state awards to the pilots responsible for downing the drone on Friday. He said the pilots prevented the drone from “violating the limits of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” referring to the invasion of Ukraine.


The ministry has insisted that at no point did the plane touch the drone or use onboard weapons and “returned safely to its home base”.

US Central Command reported that since March 1 it has observed more “unprofessional” and “unsafe” behavior by Russian pilots in Syria.

The US European Command on Thursday released video of a Russian Su-27 fighter jet colliding with a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea on March 14. A screenshot shows a jet dumping fuel. (European US Command)

But Kelly, who flew 39 fight missions during Operation: Desert Storm, said during his interview with Bret Baier that this type of behavior does not surprise him given his experience with Russian pilots.

“I think he was trying to meet and meet with the MQ-9, probably get some pictures of it, and he crashed into it,” argued Kelly. “What we keep seeing on the battlefield is this level of incompetence at every rank, right down to the generals.”


Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former defense intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital that the Russian pilots’ aggression was “deliberate” and part of a culture of “high-risk and victim tolerance” permeating the entire Russian military.

“With Putin at the helm, who is very risk tolerant, the Russian military, including pilots, is even more aggressive,” she said.

Democratic Arizona Senator Mark Kelly.

Democratic Arizona Senator Mark Kelly. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

She argued that Kelly’s assessment and implication of incompetence made sense “by US standards” but that the Russians “never fight like Americans” and instead focus on a long-term strategy.

“No one in the world comes close to matching the tactical brilliance and superior training of the US military,” she said. “The question is: do superior tactics win wars? Afghanistan has shown us that they don’t.”


“Putin has been waging a land-based war of attrition in Ukraine, largely because Putin has realized that he cannot achieve a clear military victory in Ukraine,” she said. “He’s playing a long game to ravage the country. The Russians have more than three times more people than the Ukrainians to sacrifice in this war.”

Critics have long debated why Russia didn’t rely heavily on its air force during the invasion of Ukraine, but Koffler noted that the strength of Ukraine’s air defenses, including the asymmetric use of anti-aircraft weapons such as Stinger missiles, made it too difficult have.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) during the Navy Day parade July 31, 2022 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  Putin has arrived in Saint Petersburg to review the main naval parade of over 50 military ships on Russian Navy Day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) during the Navy Day parade July 31, 2022 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Putin has arrived in Saint Petersburg to review the main naval parade of over 50 military ships on Russian Navy Day. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

“Whether they fight competently or incompetently, by US standards the war will go on because Putin’s definition of victory is keeping the conflict going,” Koffler concluded.

Kelly called on the US to continue supporting Ukraine and oppose Russia, and he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of killing women and children and committing war crimes.


“We cannot allow Russia to beat Ukraine to win this cause I can guarantee you that they will be looking to the next country,” Kelly said, emphasizing the fact that Putin has repeatedly spoken out about his desire to rebuild the Soviet Union.

“So that at this critical moment we withdraw… to give [Putin] place to succeed in Ukraine – that would be a colossal strategic mistake for our country.”

Fox News Digital’s Timothy HJ Nerozzi

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