The Russian Su-27 maneuvered its wingtip within a few feet of the larger, slower RC-135 for several minutes, said Meghan Henderson, a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command. The Pentagon considered the incident, known as an “intercept,” unsafe because of the “high rate of closure speed” and the “poor control of the aircraft” that the Russian pilot had, Henderson said.
The RC-135 is a modified C-135 plane that carries advance sensors that allow airmen inside to detect and make sense of electronic signals. Its crew typically includes more than 30 people, including electronic warfare officers, intelligence operations and maintenance technicians, according to the Air Force.
The Su-27 is a Russian-made jet that was designed to be competitive with “fourth-generation” aircraft used by the Pentagon, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet.
The U.S. and Russian militaries have had several altercations off the Russian coast in international airspace and waters in the past few years, although none has spiraled into bloodshed.
In another intercept in that month, A Russian Su-27 barrel-rolled over another RC-135 and came within 50 feet of the plane. The Pentagon decried the maneuver as unsafe and aggressive.