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A Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighter plane is reported to have passed extremely close to a US Lockheed P-3C Orion reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea on Monday. The incident, the latest in a series of such flybys reportedly had the Russian fighter jet passing within just five feet of the US plane.
This seems rather unlikely to be so close, but the jet did get the P-3C caught in the jetwash, which caused the Orion to roll about 15 degrees in the violent turbulence caused by the jet. The Sukhoi was reportedly using its afterburners at the time, too.
Although it is not clear that anything damaging happened to the Orion, the Pentagon reported that it had to end its mission prematurely and land after this incident. The total duration of time in which the two aircraft interacted with one another was about two hours and 40 minutes.
This incident is the first of its kind since another such incident took place in November 2017, also over the Black Sea.
Both Russia and the United States have increased their presence in the Black Sea following the 2014 referendum when Crimea joined the Russian Federation. This move is viewed by the Americans as “Russian aggression” and, together with the resistance of two breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine towards the Poroshenko government, has helped lead to increased NATO presence and accompanying rhetoric in the area.
The Black Sea waters are international due to the size of the sea, but this location is strategically extremely important to the Russian forces since it is ice-free all year round. Much of the Russian Naval forces are stationed at their base in Sevastopol.
Russia had permission to base its forces there even while Crimea was considered part of Ukraine, but since 2014, when Crimea voted to join Russia and the Federation accepted them, the base has been beefed up a bit. It is now routine for Russian and American / NATO forces to see one another operating in the area.
“The entire flight of the Su-27 was conducted in accordance with international regulations, and there were no emergency situations,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement obtained by RT.
Moscow said that the plane was scrambled when as unidentified flying object was detected heading for the Russian border. The Su-27 approached the aircraft and identified it as a US Navy ЕР-3Е Aries II – a commonly used surveillance plane. The ministry said that the jet shepherded it “at a safe distance” before the spy plane changed course away from Russian airspace.
The US Navy released a contrasting account of the intercept, which it said lasted 2 hours 40 minutes.
“This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 closing to within five feet [1.5 meters] and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27’s jet wash,” it said in a statement. It insisted that the American plane “did not provoke this Russian activity” and stated that its response “increased the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions.”
“The Russian military is within its right to operate within international airspace, but they must behave within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent incidents,” it added.