A Russian fighter jet came within 20 feet of a US Navy patrol aircraft, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed today in a public announcement.
The incident took place over the Black Sea, when a Sukhoi Su-30, operated by Russian Air Force, came “very close” to an American surveillance aircraft P-8 Poseidon. The SU-30 is a standard Russian fighter that is used for several purposes, including the guarding of air space and intercepting other aircraft.
Russian officials stated that their pilot was acting according to the standard procedure, greeting a foreign aircraft by flying parallel to it, and that there was never any intention of causing trouble.
US Navy spokesman Captain Pamela Kunze confirms this. “No matter how weird they may seem to general public, these kinds of maneuvers are a regular sight on patrol missions. According to the reports of our flight crews, this one in particular was carried out in a safe and professional way and we have no reason to believe it was an act of hostility”.
Kunze also explained that Russian and American fighters and bombers meet above international waters on a daily basis and that it’s all part of maintaining presence and keeping international air corridors safe.
The Black Sea region has seen an increase in encounters with Russia in an area that includes Crimea and Ukraine. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and has been condemned by the United States for fueling a conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Navy could not immediately say whether the Russian fighter encountered Tuesday in international airspace was using the radio transponders that help avoid collisions.
Analysts remind that even though this particular event wasn’t interpreted as an incident, there have been numerous situations where Russian and American fighters came dangerously close to each other. Long-range Russian bombers have become a common sight again off the coast of Alaska.
This month, two Tu-95 Bear bombers showed up off the coast with two fighter jets after four similar incidents in April that resulted in the U.S. scrambling F-22 stealth fighters. Russian fighters were also filmed on several occasions as they flew right next to US Navy warships in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Analysts and some military officials say that both American and Russian governments use these encounters to project their sovereignty and “showoff” their military might. However, they point out that not all actions are always interpreted as hostile. As long as the approaching aircraft is not showing its “belly”, or in other words – its weaponry, the act is not considered hostile. But if the pilot decides to tilt to the side in order to expose the undercarriage, it can be interpreted as a sign to back off. Especially if the aircraft in question is carrying live ammunition.