The U.S. Navy has reported that a Russian Su-30 fighter jet executed an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon over the Black Sea on Saturday. The Navy aircraft had its transponder on and was conducting “routine operations in international airspace.” The unprofessional behavior demonstrated by the Russian pilot was clearly intentional, according to U.S. officials.
“The U.S. aircraft was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this Russian behavior,” Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, told reporters.
The Su-30, among the more capable of Russian multi-role fighter jets, intercepted the unarmed Navy P-8A and crossed directly through its flight path with afterburners on full. The Russian fighter came to within 50 feet of the Poseidon’s nose, and the jet wash from the Su-30’s afterburners created enough violent turbulence to send the American aircraft into a 15-degree roll.
“Unsafe actions have the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all air crews involved,” Baldanza added.
This is far from the first incident between Russian aircraft and American or allied planes in the region. The Black Sea has become a hot bed for aggressive posturing between Russian aircraft and planes deployed by NATO to observe, and potentially counter, another Russian incursion into foreign territory as was seen in Crimea in 2014. NATO nations now maintain rotational air forces in the region for just that purpose, with the United States currently amid its rotation in the duty.
The most recent unsafe intercept executed by Russian aircraft in the region was as recent as June, when a Su-27, a predecessor to the Su-30, came to within only five feet of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
A day later, a NATO F-16 scrambled by the Polish Air Force intercepted a Russian jet that was believed to be a nuclear capable Tu-154 bomber conducting one of Russia’s common shows of force, but turned out to be carrying Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergey Shoygu, as he traveled to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to meet with government officials about Russia’s defenses on the Western Flank. As the F-16 approached, one of multiple Su-27 fighters flying in escort positions placed itself between the NATO jet and the Tu-154, angling its wing intentionally to show that it was armed. Approximately one minute after the interaction began, the Polish F-16 withdrew from the area.
You can watch that interaction in this video:
While aggressive intercepts may go both ways over the Black and Baltic Seas, it is usually Russia that pushes the envelope into unsafe behavior. Earlier in the year, four Russian jets turned off their transponders and buzzed the USS Porter (DDG 78), a guided missile destroyer, in the Black Sea. The behavior seemed to model itself after mock bombing runs on the vessel, raising concerns that the destroyer may be forced to defend itself, causing an international incident.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons