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Ukraine conflict: UAV crosses NATO airspace before crashing in Croatia

An unmanned aircraft flew undetected through the airspace of three NATO countries before crashing into a suburb of the Croatian capital Zagreb in the late hours of 10 March.

The Croatian government confirmed the incident, noting that the aircraft crossed Romanian and Hungarian airspace before entering its own airspace and crashing into a Zagreb suburb.

“A pilotless military aircraft” entered Croatian airspace from neighbouring Hungary at a speed of 700 km/h and an altitude of 4,300 feet, according to Croatia's National Security Council. Croatian President Zoran Milanovic added that “the serious incident” must be thoroughly investigated to determine “how a relatively unsophisticated drone flew for over an hour over NATO countries without being detected”.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) reportedly came down after it ran out of fuel, with a relatively small explosion on the ground being caused by the impact rather than any warhead.

The point of launch of the unmanned aircraft is not known (or at least has not been disclosed), and neither Kyiv nor Moscow have made any public pronouncements on the incident.

The reported flight path of the aircraft was from the direction of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Air Force recently refurbished and returned to service an unknown number of Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-141 ‘Strizh' and Tu-143 ‘Reys' reconnaissance drones. Of these, the long-range supersonic Tu-141 matches the reported flight profile of the aircraft, and has the range to fly from western Ukraine to Zagreb.

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