WASHINGTON — -- A Russian fighter jet flew within 50 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane flying over the Baltic Sea Thursday as it conducted a barrel roll over the American plane, U.S. officials announced today.
The Pentagon has labeled the Russian intercept as "unsafe and unprofessional" in another second risky encounter between the U.S. and Russian militaries in the Baltic. Earlier in the week Russian aircraft had buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer more than 30 times over two days with one pass coming as close as 30 feet to the ship.
"On April 14, 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," said a statement from U.S. European Command. "This intercept comes shortly after the unsafe Russian encounters with USS Donald Cook. 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."
On Monday and Tuesday, two Russian SU-25 fighter jets buzzed the Donald Cook 31 times at extremely low altitudes that were characterized by the Pentagon as being "simulated attack profiles." Photo stills and video of the encounters released by U.S. European Command showed how low the Russian fighters were flying with one pass coming within 30 feet of the destroyer.
"The U.S. aircraft was operating in international airspace and at no time crossed into Russian territory," said the statement. "This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved. More importantly, the unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries.
"The SU-27 performed erratic and aggressive maneuvers," said Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman. "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-135U."
"More specifically, the SU-27 closed within 50ft 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," said Seal.
A Russian military spokesman denied that the Russian fighter had carried out aggressive behavior during the intercept.
"On April 14, air defense forces detected over the Baltic ocean an unidentified aerial target rapidity approaching the Russian border. An Su-27 fighter jet was deployed by the Baltic Fleet to identify the target,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told the Russian news agency Tass. "The flight of the Russian plane was in accordance with international standards for the use of airspace. No emergency situation occurred."
There was a similar intercept in January when two Russian fighter jets flew 15 feet in front of another RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea. The Pentagon also labeled that encounter as having been conducted in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner.”