fighter jet flew within a little more than 3 meters (10 feet) of a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft, in what American
officials called an unsafe intercept over the Black Sea, the Pentagon said Sept. 7, although Moscow quickly insisted the encounter was within “international rules.”
U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Russian
SU-27 Flanker fighter made the unsafe maneuver Sept. 7 near a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine and intelligence aircraft that was conducting routine operations in international airspace.
A U.S. defense official, speaking earlier on condition of anonymity, told AFP the Russian
plane flew within 9 meters (30 feet) of the P-8A before closing to just 10 feet.
Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Sept. 7 that the Poseidon aircraft did not have its transponders turned on, and that it approached Russia’s southern border twice.
He said Russian
jets were deployed to intercept the incoming aircraft and “Russian pilots acted in strict compliance with international flight rules.”
“After the Russian
fighters got close to the spy planes for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the American
aircraft changed course sharply and flew away,” the statement said, according to AFP.
A senior U.S. defense official told the Associated Press that the Navy Poseidon had its transponder turned on during the entire flight. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the U.S., the Russian
jet conducted four intercepts of the Poseidon, and the one that was considered unsafe lasted about 19 minutes.
Davis said that U.S. Navy aircraft and ships routinely interact with Russian
units in the area and most interactions are safe and professional.
“However, we have concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver like this,” he said. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident.”
Russian jets have occasionally flown close to other U.S. aircraft and Navy ships in the region. In one more dramatic incident earlier this year, Russian
jets buzzed over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, coming within 30 feet of the warship.