As dramatic as this collision is, U.S. and Russian pilots frequently test each other in the air.

It’s tempting to look at a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russian air forces and assume this is the beginning of a more dire escalation involving the world’s biggest nuclear-weapons powers. But many elements of the event indicate that we needn’t be overly alarmist, at least when considering the immediate implications. 

As is usual in these types of incidents, there are some things we don’t yet know. It’s not clear if the Russians deliberately tried to damage the MQ-9’s propeller or whether it was pilot error, for example. State Department spokesman Ned Price is leaning toward the latter explanation, telling MSNBC on Wednesday that the collision was “probably the result of profound incompetence on the part of one of these Russian pilots.”