Bill Gertz — Washington Free Beacon April 16, 2016
A Russian fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft on Thursday in the latest military provocation by Moscow over the Baltic Sea, the U.S. European Command said Saturday.
“On April 14, a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft flying a routine route in international airspace over the Baltic Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 in an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” said Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez.
“This intercept comes shortly after the unsafe Russian encounters with USS Donald Cook,” he added. “There have been repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we are very concerned with any such behavior.”
Hernandez said the U.S. aircraft, a militarized Boeing 707 jet, was operating in international airspace “and at no time crossed into Russian territory.”
“This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved,” he said. “More importantly, the unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries.”
According to Hernandez, the Su-27 carried out “erratic and aggressive maneuvers” by approaching the RC-135 at a high rate of speed from the side.
The Russian jet “then proceeded to perform an aggressive maneuver that posed a threat to the safety of the U.S. aircrew in the RC-135U,” the spokesman said.
“More specifically, the SU-27 closed within 50 feet of the wing-tip of the RC-135 and conducted a barrel roll starting from the left side of the aircraft, going over the top of the aircraft and ended up to the right of the aircraft,” he said.
The U.S. government is protesting all the incidents this week to the Russian government through diplomatic channels, he said.
The RC-135U, an electronic intelligence-gathering aircraft, is normally operated by five air crew and up to 16 electronic warfare officers and six or more regional specialists.
The dangerous aerial incident came two days after a simulated Russian aerial assault against the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. Washington called the simulated assault a military provocation, and said it nearly caused an international shootout.
Two Russian fighter-bombers, identified as Su-24s, made close passes over the Cook, including one jet that came within 30 feet of the warship.
A Navy officer said the buzzing was the most reckless flyover of a U.S. warship by either a Russian or Chinese warplane since the Cold War. “I’ve been in a lot of those situations and I’ve never seen any plane come that close,” the officer said.