— -- In another close encounter with Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea, the Pentagon said a Russian Su-27 fighter jet Friday conducted a barrel roll within 25 feet of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane flying in international airspace.
It is the third time in as many weeks the United States has accused the Russian military of engaging in "an unsafe and unprofessional" manner in the waters and airspace of the Baltic Sea. The previous incidents were the repeated buzzing at close range of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook and another barrel roll of a U.S. reconnaissance plane
A barrel roll is when an aircraft pulls parallel to another aircraft and then rises up and does a complete 360-degree turn over the other aircraft.
"On April 29, 2016, 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," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said.
"The Su-27 performed erratic and aggressive maneuvers," she said. "The Su-27 intercepted the U.S. aircraft flying a routine route at high rate of speed from the side then proceeded to perform an aggressive maneuver that posed a threat to the safety of the U.S. aircrew in the RC-135. More specifically, the Su-27 closed within 25 feet of the fuselage of the RC-135 and conducted a barrel roll over the aircraft.
"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," Baldanza added. "This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved."
The U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was flying in international airspace at the time of today’s intercept and had not crossed into Russian territory.
"The unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries,” Baldanza said.
On April 11 and 12, the USS Donald Cook was overflown more than 30 times by a pair of Su-27 fighters that on one occasion flew as close as 30 feet from the ship. The Pentagon later released video and still images to demonstrate how risky the Russian aircraft maneuvers had been.
On April 14, another Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 fighter that proceeded to conduct a barrel roll within feet of the U.S. plane.
On both occasions, Russian officials discounted the U.S. characterization that the actions by the Russian military aircraft were unsafe and unprofessional.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a congressional panel Wednesday that the previous encounters carry "an inherent danger" of unintended escalation between the U.S. and Russian militaries.
He commended the crew of the USS Donald Cook for their professionalism because "there's a real risk there because that ship captain has a responsibility to defend his job and an inherent right of self-defense."
"But our own people comported themselves as they always do in the way you'd expect, very professional," Carter said.
The Russian’s motivation is unknown but Carter said it’s “unprofessional behavior, and whether it is encouraged from the top, whether it was encouraged from higher up or not I can't say. But we do expect it to be discouraged from higher up from now on. That's the reason why the chairman had the conversations he did, and these pilots need to get the word, hey, knock it off. This is unprofessional. This is dangerous. This could lead somewhere.”
At the same hearing, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the risk of miscalculation between the two militaries "arguably, is greater than it was in the Cold War because the spectrum of challenges is wider today than it was traditionally narrow through just the nuclear enterprise."