The U.S. Navy on Monday decried an incident in which a Russian Su-27 Flanker jet buzzed a much slower EP-3 Aries surveillance aircraft, calling the incident unsafe and unprovoked. The Navy isn’t done drawing attention to the hair-raising encounter just yet.
On Wednesday, the service released several new videos (compiled into one clip above) it said show the behavior of the Russian pilot. The incident took place in international airspace over the Black Sea, where both aircraft are permitted.
“While not shown in the released imagery, during the intercept, the Russian Su-27 executed a hard right-to-left turn from the U.S. EP-3’s right side with an excessive closure rate and came within five feet of the EP-3’s right wingtip,” the Navy said in a news release. “The Russian Su-27 then proceeded to enter the flight path of the U.S. Navy EP-3, crossing within 10 feet and executing a sharp dive below, which resulted in violent turbulence for the U.S. EP-3 and its crew members.”
Navy Capt. Bill Ellis, who oversees the U.S. aircraft involved, raised concerns in the same statement about the potential consequences of such a maneuver.
“For the Russian fighter aircraft to fly this close to the U.S. Navy aircraft, especially for extended periods of time, is unsafe,” Ellis said. “The smallest lapse of focus or error in airmanship by the intercepting aircrew can have disastrous consequences. There is no margin for error and insufficient time or space for our aircrews to take corrective action.”
The Navy released one clip of the encounter Tuesday, showing the Flanker cut across the EP-3’s flight path. The new videos show the Russian jet just off the EP-3’s wingtip, as the propeller of the Navy plane twirls in front of the camera.
The U.S. military has occasionally released videos like those of the intercept Monday, but also sometimes declines to do so. The Pentagon has said most interactions between Russian and American warplanes go smoothly, including in a case last year in which a Russian jet came within 20 feet of a Navy P-8 surveillance plane.
“Every event is unique and any single variable does not define an event,” said Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a service spokeswoman, at the time. “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 latest incident has some parallels to a 2016 case in which two unarmed Russian Su-24 Fencer attack jets buzzed a Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, while it operated in international waters in the Baltic Sea. In that case, videos the Navy released showed the jets roaring by at high speed, seemingly no more than a few hundred yards away.
“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” U.S. European Command said in a statement at the time. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”
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What it looks like when Russian attack jets fly ‘dangerously close’ to a Navy ship