With the resurgence of Russian airpower in the Baltic region, recent clashes have led even the Russians to take a look at air safety measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he accepted his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto’s proposal to develop aviation security measures in the Baltic region.  Primarily, the issue involves Russian aircraft not flying around with their transponders turned on.  The transponder emits an identifying signal so other aircraft and ground radars can track the aircraft position and altitude.

Putin, however, was adamant about making clear that Russian aircraft were not the only violators:

“I would remind that not only Russian planes fly over the Baltics without turning on their respective identification devices, but also all NATO countries’ aircraft. The number of NATO flights over the Baltics in this mode is twice the efficiency of Russian aircraft flights. This is not our invention, this is statistics,” Putin said.

But their have been other incidents in the region with the Russians that have suggested air safety needs to be a primary concern.

Russian SU-24 fighters came dangerously close (some estimates as near as 30 feet) during flyover runs to the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea back in April.  This and other aggressive maneuvers by the Russians have spurred discussions on how to improve air safety and avoid an unintentional mishap that could lead to a major confrontation.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo)
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo)

Former Polish President Lech Walesa weighed in on the situation telling Radio Free Europe on Saturday:

“If I was a commanding officer on that ship [Donald Cook], and I saw those planes flying above, I would just shoot them down. I wouldn’t kill the pilots. I’d shoot through the wing”.

Ironically, Walesa is a 1983 Nobel Peace prize winner. To be fair, no love is lost between Russian and Poland, but taking a shot is probably not the best approach.

In an article on Navy Times, the Captain of the USS Donald Cook explained the rules of engagement regarding the April incident.  The Russian SU-24’s did not have weapons, were not emitting any electronic emissions, and were clearly identified.  Most importantly, the United States is not at war with Russia.

“You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying,” said Hoffman.

Rules of engagement exist for a reason:  to avoid instances of trigger happy commanders that could lead to a more escalated situation.  Firing a weapon is the last event in a series of checks and balances.  Once a weapon is released, there is little a firing aircraft or ship can do to reverse course.  Thus, the firing platform must be absolutely clear in its intentions.

Because of Finland’s proposal, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu commanded the military to develop “a system of trust measures that would increase flight safety in the Baltic Sea region,” a ministry statement said.

“In case of NATO countries are reciprocally ready to conduct their air force flights near Russian borders with transponders enabled, Russian Defense Ministry experts may take part in a detailed discussion of this issue at an a expert level,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.

Russia said this issue will be put on the Russia-NATO Council meeting agenda in Brussels, July 8-9.

Photo credit: Associated Press