A Russian jet flew within 20 feet of an U.S. Navy surveillance plane this week, but U.S. military officials said Friday that they consider the event to have been conducted safely and professionally.
The maneuvering occurred Tuesday over the Black Sea in international airspace, U.S. military officials said. Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Europe, said in a statement that U.S. and Russian aircraft and ships “routinely interact” and that “most interactions are safe and professional.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged the incident, first reported by NBC News, on Friday. The Kremlin said in a statement published by the state-owned Tass news agency that the Russian jet — identified as an Su-30 by Russian officials and as an Su-27 by Americans — “was scrambled to intercept the target,” but did not involve any unnecessary risks.
Kunze did not call the incident an “intercept,” but said it occurred during “routine operations.”
It happened one day before President Trump met at the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. The U.S. military also routinely intercepts Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska, but other incidents in which Russian aircraft have come that close to U.S. aircraft and ships have drawn rebukes from the Pentagon.
Kunze said that distance is only one variable considered in defining what the Pentagon considers to be a safe and professional flight. Others include speed, altitude, rate of closure and visibility.
“Every event is unique and any single variable does not define an event,” Kunze said. “It is up to the commander of the vessel — whether ship or aircraft — to evaluate all of the variables and assess each interaction individually.”
The number of incidents in which U.S. aircraft have intercepted Russian long-range bombers off the coast of Alaska has spiked recently, after a period in 2015 in which the Russians had the majority of the bombers down for maintenance. The United States and Russia have both characterized those incidents as professional, and the U.S. military has said that Russia has not entered American airspace.
Last fall, the Russians buzzed a P-8 over the Black Sea in another incident that the Pentagon did consider unsafe and unprofessional. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said at the time that the two planes came “extremely close” during a close-range intercept.
In February, multiple Russian aircraft buzzed the USS Porter, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, in the Black Sea as it returned from an exercise with the Romanian navy. The ship’s captain in that case defined the incident as unsafe.
Related on Checkpoint:
In first under Trump, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer at close range