Days after the United States issued a statement and accompanying videos accusing a Russian military jet of conducting an unsafe intercept of an unarmed American surveillance aircraft, the Russian government has responded with thinly veiled insults aimed at U.S. foreign policy, and in particular, American pilots.
On Monday, the U.S. Navy issued a statement regarding yet another “unprofessional” intercept conducted by Russian fighters over the Black Sea. This region, which represents NATO’s Eastern and Russia’s Western flanks, has seen a significant increase in aerial intercepts of this sort, as Russian, American, and other NATO nations test one another’s limits over the tense region. This time, it was a Russian Su-27 fighter closing with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries surveillance plane. The encounter is said to have gone on for two hours and 40 minutes, culminating in the Su-27 coming to within only five feet of the quad-prop aircraft, forcing it to divert and causing “violent turbulence” sustained by the Aries crew.
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.”
The Navy has also released a number of videos of the intercept, clearly showing how close the Su-27 came to the unarmed aircraft.
While not shown in the released imagery, during the intercept, the Russian Su-27 executed a hard right-to-left turn from the US EP-3’s right side with an excessive closure rate and came within five feet of the EP-3’s right wingtip,” the Navy said.
“The Russian Su-27 then proceeded to enter the flight path of the US Navy EP-3, crossing within 10 feet and executing a sharp dive below, which resulted in violent turbulence for the US EP-3 and its crewmembers.”
While intercepts between Russia and NATO aircraft are common not only over the Black Sea, but throughout much of the world, there are a number of international norms pilots are expected to adhere to when closing with foreign-flagged planes. Primary among them, of course, is maintaining safe and professional behavior throughout the interaction. This isn’t simply for the safety of the pilots and crew, but also to avoid an international incident if the worst were to happen. Russia has long made a habit of probing other nation’s aerial defenses with long-range bombers and fighter escort flights, often serving as the aggressor approaching foreign air space, though in this instance, the American aircraft was approaching Crimean airspace. Crimea, which previously belonged to Ukraine, was the subject of military annex by Russian forces in 2014, spurring a new era of tensions between NATO and Russia in the region.
Despite Russia’s habit of encroaching on other nation’s air space with nuclear capable bombers, their response to America’s complaint seemed to suggest the problem wasn’t their pilot’s behavior, but rather, the mental state of the American pilot that was forced to divert in the Su-27’s jet wash.
If the realization of this fact by American pilots causes depression and phobias, we recommend that the American side either exclude flying near Russian borders in the future or return to the negotiations table and agree on a set of rules for such flights,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, though spokesman for the Kremlin declined to elaborate on was “set of rules” the Russian military hopes to find an agreement on.
The Kremlin also called the intercept, as well as their pilot’s behavior throughout the nearly three-hour ordeal, “absolutely legal and perfectly safe for the American surveillance plane.”
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