The US says the drone which crashed into the Black Sea after encountering two Russian fighter jets will not provide intelligence of any value should Moscow attempt to recover its wreckage.
Russian officials have said they will seek to find whatever is left of the MQ-9 Reaper, which was downed on Tuesday.
Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, said his country had the technological capability to recover the drone’s fragments, which are believed to be off the west coast of Crimea.
US officials believe that Russia has already sent ships to the area.
At a Pentagon news conference, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared relaxed about the possibility of the $32m drone being found.
He said: “We will work through recovery operations. That’s US property. But it probably broke up. There’s probably not a lot to recover, frankly.
“As far as the loss of anything of sensitive intelligence, etc … we would take – and we did take – mitigating measures. So we’re quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value.”
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US would take “steps to protect the information” and to “minimise any effort by anybody else to exploit that drone for useful content”.
Although officials would not disclose how they would protect the Reaper, the US military has acknowledged in the past that they can remotely remove sensitive information from the drone and make their systems inoperable.
The US said it ditched the surveillance drone in the sea after a Russian Su-27 fighter jet poured fuel on it and then struck its propeller while flying in international airspace. American officials are working on declassifying surveillance footage from the drone to prove this.
Russia has denied that it caused the accident, which has lead to one of the most serious escalations between the two nations for many years.