The Navy says the Russian fighter jet came within 25 feet of its reconnaissance plane flying near Russian forces in Syria.
RUSSIA ON MONDAY defended its intercept of an American spy plane over the Mediterranean near Syria that the Navy described as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
The Navy’s 6th Fleet, which oversees operations in the region, released video on Sunday of a Russian air force SU-35 Flanker coming dangerously close to a Navy P-8A surveillance aircraft, the second of two intercepts during the encounter.
“The first intercept was deemed safe and professional. The second intercept was determined to be unsafe and unprofessional due to the SU-35 conducting high-speed, high-powered maneuver that decreased aircraft separation to within 25 feet, directly in front of the P-8A, exposing the U.S. aircraft to wake turbulence and jet exhaust,” according to a Navy statement.
Both countries say the incident took place in international airspace.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Monday said the encounter was “in strict accordance with the international rules for the use of airspace over international waters.”
Russian forces operating in Syria identified the Navy flight and claimed it was on a course toward Russian bases there.
“A fighter from the air defense forces on duty at the Khmeimim air base was raised to identify the target,” according to the Russian statement reported by state news service Tass. The American aircraft changed course and the Russian jet returned to its base, the ministry said.
The incident comes as U.S. military officials have expressed concern about provocations from other countries amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Sunday’s encounter was the second Russian intercept of U.S. aircraft in the prior four days and comes as several countries have tested U.S. military aircraft and Navy vessels in recent weeks – a Russian fighter jet performed an “unsafe” intercept of an American spy plane over the Mediterranean Sea the same day that Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test last week. That test occurred around the same time that Iranian vessels conducted what defense officials considered “dangerous and provocative” maneuvers near U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf. North Korea also carried out a series of short-range missile tests the same week.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper dismissed the events as “a normal week for DOD.”