A Russian Su-27 fighter jet conducted what U.S. officials are characterizing as an unsafe, unprofessional intercept of a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea on Monday. According to a statement released by US Naval Forces Europe, the Russian fighter closed to within just feet of the American aircraft.
“A U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-27,” U.S. Naval Forces Europe spokesman, Capt. Pamela Kunze told reporters. “This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the SU-27’s jet wash.”
“Unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions,” Kunze went on, adding, “The U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.”
The EP-3 Aries is an unarmed surveillance aircraft that was reportedly conducting routine operations over international waters at the time of the intercept. The Russian Su-27 pilot reportedly harassed the Aries crew for over two hours and 40 minutes, before the fighter’s aggressive maneuvers forced the four-prop airplane to divert from its mission ahead of schedule.
“This is but the latest example of Russian military activities disregarding international norms and agreements,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions.”
This is just the most recent of a rash of intercepts over the Black and Baltic Seas, where Russia’s Western flank meets NATO’s Eastern, and where concerns about aggressive Russian expansion remain at the forefront of local concerns.
The U.S. Navy accused Russian fighters of executing “unsafe” intercepts of surveillance aircraft as recently as last November, when an Su-30 crossed directly into the flight path of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon. Of course, Russia has matched consistently aggressive behavior with consistent dismissals of American accusations. Monday’s intercept was no exception.
“A Su-27 fighter was sent to intercept the target and approached the aircraft at a safe distance and identified it as an ER-3E (Aries II) US reconnaissance aircraft,” the official statement from the Kremlin reads. “The crew of the fighter jet reported the identification of the American reconnaissance aircraft and accompanied it, preventing it from violating Russian airspace, observing all necessary security measures.”
“The entire flight of the Russian Su-27 was strictly in accordance with international rules for the use of airspace and there were no extraordinary events,” the statement added.
The Russian military frequently uses its long-range bombers to poke at the defenses of NATO nations, resulting in fighters being scrambled to intercept and escort Russia’s aircraft, though Eastern Europe has the distinction of being one of the few places on the planet where U.S. and Russian fighters have a higher likelihood of engaging one another. Fighter intercepts are just one aspect of military posturing on both sides of the international diplomatic conflict resulting from Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
You can watch footage of U.S. and RAF fighters intercepting Russian Su-30s in the region below:
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.