Pentagon: Russian Fighter Conducted ‘Unsafe’ Intercept of U.S. Recon Plane Over Black Sea

January 28, 2016 3:52 PM
A U.S. Air Force Boeing RC-135U Combat Sent aircraft in 2004. US Air Force Photo
A U.S. Air Force Boeing RC-135U Combat Sent aircraft in 2004. US Air Force Photo

PENTAGON — A Russian fighter intercepted a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance flight in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner’ in international airspace over the Black Sea, a Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed to USNI News on Thursday.

According to the Pentagon, a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker intercepted a RC-135U Combat Sent “flying a routine route in international airspace over the Black Sea,” read a statement provided to USNI News.

The statement indicated the U.S. is “looking into this particular incident.”

The fighter came close and its thrust “disturbed the controllability” of the U.S. electronic surveillance aircraft, a defense official told The Washington Free Beacon.

The news site also cited a second defense official saying the Combat Sent was flying 30 miles off the coast and no where near Russian territory when the intercept occurred.

Pentagon officials were careful to say the intercept was not reason the U.S. and the Russians spoke via a Thursday video teleconference. Russian Ministry of Defense officials and Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin and Joint Staff Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie discussed the ongoing deconfliction of U.S. and Russian strike missions over Syria as part of an ongoing memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Russia.

Officials USNI News spoke with were unclear if the Flanker intercept came up during the conversation.

The intercept of the RC-135U – designed to record radar emissions from potential adversaries to develop countermeasures — is the latest of a string of incidents between NATO and Russian forces since Russia seized control of the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014.

Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker Righter
Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker Righter

The incident is the latest in a string of intercepts since over the last two years that the Pentagon has deemed unsafe.

The Pentagon has labeled several intercepts of variants of the RC-135 surveillance planes over the Baltic, Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean at the edge of Russian controlled airspace as “unprofessional” and “provocative.”

In 2014 a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 Fencer made repeated passes over USSDonald Cook (DDG-75), a ballistic missile destroyer, while it was conducting operations in the Black Sea.

Later that year, the Canadian frigate HMCS Toronto was buzzed by Fencers operating in the Black Sea.

For their part, Russian officials have complained of the uptick in U.S. surveillance flights since 2014.

“US RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft carry out flights almost daily,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, said in late 2014.
“In 2014, more than 140 RC-135 flights have taken place compared to 22 flights in 2013.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox