A Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 fighter was involved in an ‘unsafe’ interception of a US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea today, September 7, the US Department of Defense has announced.
According to the Pentagon, the Russian fighter flew dangerously close to the Poseidon — as close as 10ft, based on a statement to AFP originating from an unnamed US defense official. The same source also said the Russian jet — one of two sent to intercept two P-8s — first flew within 30ft of the US Navy aircraft, before approaching closer still.
‘These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident’, said Pentagon spokesman CAPT Jeff Davis. The entire encounter lasted around 19 minutes, according to the Pentagon.
CAPT Davis said the P-8 was undertaking ‘routine operations’ in international airspace when the incident occurred. Moscow countered by stating that the Su-27 pilots acted ‘in strict accordance with international rules’ throughout the encounter. According to Russian officials, the US Navy surveillance aircraft was gathering intelligence on on-going Russian military’s ‘Caucasus 2016’ exercise taking place in the region.
A statement from Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said that Su-27s were sent to observe two P-8s, which ‘twice tried to get close to the Russian border over the Black Sea without their transponders turned on. After the Russian fighters got close to the spyplanes for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the American aircraft changed course sharply and flew away.’
‘We have deep concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver’, CAPT Davis continued.
Independent monitors of air and sea traffic in the region indicated that a number of Russian ships were active near Ukraine’s Odessa offshore gas field while a US Navy P-8 was patrolling the same area. At least some of this airspace is understood to be claimed by Russia.
While photographs of the encounter have yet to be released, the stand-off is a reflection of the continued deterioration in relations between the United States and Russia since the latter’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Last May another ‘unsafe’ intercept was reported over the Black Sea, involving a Russian Su-27 and a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
A month previous to that encounter, Russian Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft carried out a highly publicized series of low-level flights over the US Navy warship USS Donald Cook, under way in the Baltic Sea.