The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In first under Trump, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer at close range

A Russian Su-24 buzzes the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy)

Multiple Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. destroyer patrolling in the Black Sea last week, in an incident the captain of the American ship called “unsafe,” the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The three flybys occurred on Feb. 10 and were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

Lt. Col. David Faggard, a U.S. European Command spokesman, said the USS Porter, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was returning from an exercise with the Romanian navy when an Il-38 sub-hunting quad-engine aircraft approached at a high speed and low altitude. The Il-38 was followed by two Su-24 fighter-bomber jets and then a single Su-24.

Faggard said the aircraft did not respond to radio calls and that they did not have their identification transponders turned on. He could not confirm whether the jets were armed and would not specify the altitude of the aircraft.

“Incidents like this are concerning because a miscommunication could turn into an accident or miscalculation,” Faggard said, adding that the captain of the Porter called the flybys “unprofessional.”

During the campaign, President Trump had suggested that such incidents show “how low we’ve gone that they can toy with us like that.” He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be warned in a phone call to stop and if the flybys continued then “when that sucker comes by you, you gotta shoot.”

U.S. military forces have continued to deploy into Eastern Europe under plans laid out under the Obama administration. Russia has routinely decried the troop deployments and Navy maneuvers as NATO provocations.

A NATO fighter pilot describes encounters with Russian pilots testing Western airspace (Video: Michael Birnbaum/The Washington Post)

Last week’s incident fits a pattern of “unsafe” Russian aircraft activity that has spiked since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, beginning in 2014. The most recent close call around the Black Sea occurred in September, when a Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft made a “close-range intercept” with a U.S. P-8 Poseidon, a maritime surveillance plane.

Russian attack jets flew "dangerously close" to U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea April 11 and 12. The Navy said it is reviewing the incident. (Video: U.S. Navy)

In April, there were multiple encounters with Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Two Su-24s and a flight of helicopters buzzed the destroyer USS Donald Cook and an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in two separate incidents. The jets came within 30 feet of the Cook’s rear deck, and the RC-135 was on a “routine” mission when an Su-27 barrel-rolled over it from wingtip to wingtip.

This post has been corrected to reflect that an Il-38 has four engines, not two.

Related on Checkpoint:
Inside the Ukrainian special forces fight against separatists — and their own government

How Russian special forces are shaping the fight in Syria

Why Russia is sending airstrike information to a U.S. military nerve center in Qatar