Armed Russian Fighter Jet flying close to US Navy aircraft- What’s the game?

 In Military, Politics

Russian jets have been starting a little mayhem in recent months, causing countries to scramble jets as they flew close to Alaska, and Japan, and buzzing our aircraft carriers. But in all of those ‘close encounters of the Russian kind’ none of the Russian aircraft were actually armed. Until last week. According to NBC, an armed Russian fighter jet came within 20 feet of a US surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea on Tuesday. Then on Friday, another incident occurred over the Black Sea in which an SU-27 came within 45 feet of a US aircraft.

The SU-27 jet in the first encounter was armed with six missiles, which is a rarity in these types of incidents.

The Russian government said the maneuver was a “greeting.” The mission commander of the US P-8A Poseidon* deemed both incidents as “safe and professional” even though encounters farther away than that were previously deemed “unsafe and unprofessional.”

“For aviation interactions, distance, speed, altitude, rate of closure, visibility and other factors impact whether an event is characterized as safe or unsafe, professional or not professional. Every event is unique and any single variable does not define an event.” Captain Pamela Kunze, spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy in Europe.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the fighter jet intercepted the US plane because it appeared that the surveillance aircraft was coming close to the Russian border.  As soon as the fighter stayed up close and personal with the Navy aircraft, the US plane changed course and moved away from its trajectory.

Tuesday’s encounter lasted about 5 minutes. According to Fox News, Defense officials stated that the encounter on Friday lasted about an hour,  and the unusual part was that the Russian plane approached the Navy plane “slowly.”

“Routine” Encounters

The US says that such encounters are routine, and happen on nearly a daily basis.  But 20 feet and 45 feet – not MILES, feet- is provocative on a good day. Labeling it “safe and professional” is eerie since other recent incidents at a longer distance were labelled “unsafe and unprofessional.” With armed Russian jets, it’s a situation that could go ‘south’ quickly.

*The P-8A Poseidon aircraft is much more than just a surveillance aircraft. It has a range of 1,200 nautical miles, and was created with special sensors for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities. It can be armed with cruise missiles. It has an “internal five-station weapons bay, four wing pylons, two centerline pylons, all supported by digital stores management allowing for carriage of joint missiles, torpedoes and mines” according to Military.com.  It is unclear if this Poseidon was actually armed to the teeth in these encounters.

As they say, timing is everything. The encounters came one day before Sergey Lavrov  met with Rex Tillerson and President Trump. Of course, the left hopped all over that. Russians, you know. It’s always the Russians.

 

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