In the latest attempt to recreate Top Gun in real life, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet reportedly performed an "unsafe intercept of a US Navy P-3 Orion surveillance plane" while it was flying in international airspace next to Russia, over the the Black Sea Monday, CNN reports.
What makes today's alleged close encounter remarkable is that the American pilots reported that the Russian jet came within five feet of the US plane. The Russian jet's action forced the US Navy aircraft - which was spying on Russia from above international waters in immediate vicinity to Russia - to end its mission prematurely.
Russian Su-27 seen here intercepting a Swedish ELINT Plane
Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, claimed that the Russian warplane came within five feet of the US spy plane, forcing it to veer off course and end its mission prematurely. She added that the intercept was unsafe because the Russian aircraft crossed in front of the Aries, exposing the American plane to the turbulence left in the Su-27's wake. As a result, the Aries experienced "a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence."
A separate statement came from US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, corroborating the Pentagon's allegations.
"On Jan. 29, 2018, a US EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27," the press release said. "This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3's flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27's jet wash. The duration of the intercept lasted two hours and 40 minutes."
Indicatively, this situation would be reversed if a Russian spy plane was casually spying on the US while flying above international waters in the Gulf of Mexico. One wonders how calmly the USAF would respond in that particular case.
Separately, Russia's Sputnik News reported that the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that one of their Su-27 fighter jets intercepted a US Navy EP-3 Aries surveillance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea on Monday. The Pentagon slammed the interception as "unsafe," but Moscow replied that they took "all necessary precautions" to avoid a hazardous situation.
The Russian Defense Ministry dismissed the allegations, saying that they took all necessary precautions to avoid a dangerous situation during the intercept.
"The crew of the fighter jet reported the identification of an American reconnaissance aircraft and accompanied the spy plane, preventing it from violating the Russian airspace while observing all necessary security measures," the ministry said in a statement.
"The Russian Su-27 fighter jet conducted the entire flight in strict accordance with international rules of the use of airspace. No extraordinary situations occurred during the intercept," the statement added.
In the past year, there have been several unsafe interactions between Russian and US military forces near the Black Sea, where Russian, US and NATO forces operate in close proximity to one another as a result of the military buildup by both Russia and NATO around Crimea and Eastern Europe.
In the most recent encounter over the Black Sea, a Russian Su-30 fighter jet made an "unsafe" intercept of a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft in November.
The Russian jet's actions were deemed unsafe because the aircraft crossed in front of the US plane from right to left while engaging its afterburners, forcing the P-8 to enter its jet wash, an action that caused the US plane to experience "a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence," according to Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon.
The last reported incident between US and Russian aircraft occurred in December above Syria, when US F-22s intercepted Russian attack jets after they flew over the de-confliction line intended to ensure safety. The US jets fired warning flares during the intercept of the two Russian Su-25 close air support jets after they crossed the de-confliction line multiple times. At the time, Russia's Ministry of Defense issued a statement denying the incident took place west of the de-confliction line, accusing the F-22s of interfering with the flight of the Su-25s while they were operating along the western bank of the Euphrates River.