US Spy Plane Has Brush With Russian Military, Crosses Sweden in Escape

PHOTO: The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft supports theater and national level consumers with near real time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.

The Swedish government recently summoned U.S. officials to get some answers after an American spy plane on the run from Russian aircraft stumbled into the European nation’s airspace last month.

A spokesperson for the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ABC News today that representatives “from the embassy in question” had been summoned “to call attention to the violation and the importance of respecting Swedish access provisions,” in reference to the July 18 “violation.”

While the U.S. was not named in the Swedish statement, the U.S. military today acknowledged that one of its surveillance planes, an RC-135, was “vectored” into Swedish airspace “incorrectly” by U.S. personnel that day – one day after a commercial aircraft was shot down in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. Embassy in Stockholm told ABC News it sent its Acting Defense Attache and Political Officer to a July 30 meeting at the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

The violation was first reported last week by the Swedish news outlet DN.se, which said that an American spy plane had flown East-to-West over Sweden’s Gotland island after the spy plane had an apparent brush with the Russian military. CNN reported over the weekend that the plane, an RC-135 Rivet Joint, had been flying in international airspace and conducting electronic eavesdropping on the Russian military when Russian forces began tracking it with radar. Today Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren told reporters an “unknown” number of Russian planes began heading towards the American spy plane “at a distance” when the American plane turned back westward and, after buzzing over Sweden, eventually made it back to base.

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Though there are several versions of the RC-135, the Rivet Joint variant boasts an “on-board sensor suite, which allows the mission crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,” according to an Air Force fact sheet. The aircraft “supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.”

The reported intelligence collection mission was launched a day after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot down over eastern Ukraine, an action U.S. officials later blamed on pro-Russian separatists sporting highly sophisticated Russian surface-to-air missile systems. The evidence against the separatists, the U.S. said, included intercepted phone calls between rebel commanders and purported Russian intelligence officials acknowledging the accidental shoot down.

As far as the spy plane’s brush with the Russian military, Warren downplayed the potential encounter between the American and Russian planes, saying that similar incidents happen “about 10 times a year.”

The U.S. military’s European Command said in its own statement that it will “take active steps to ensure we have properly communicated with Swedish authorities in advance to prevent similar issues before they arise.”

Whatever answers American officials gave the Swedes appear to have resolved the matter for now, at least diplomatically.

“As far as the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is concerned, the matter is thereby closed,” the Swedish MFA spokesperson said.

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