- The incident comes amid increased tensions between Russia and the US
- Russia said it would track US aircraft over Syria
- US and Russia both regularly intercept each other's aircraft
The incident comes amid increased tensions between Russian and the United States following the shoot-down Sunday of a Syrian fighter jet by a U.S. Navy Super Hornet after the Syrians bombed U.S.-backed fighters in northern Syria. Russia, which is aligned with the Syrian government and carrying out military operations in Syria alongside it, condemned the incident and said Monday that it would track U.S. aircraft over Syria.
The Russian Su-27 maneuvered its wingtip within a few feet of the larger, slower RC-135 for several minutes, said Meghan Henderson, a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command. The Pentagon considered the incident, known as an "intercept," unsafe because of the "high rate of closure speed" and the "poor control of the aircraft" that the Russian pilot had, said Henderson.
The RC-135 is a modified C-135 plane that carries advance sensors that allow airmen inside to detect and make sense of electronic signals. Its crew typically includes more than 30 people, including electronic warfare officers, intelligence operations and maintenance technicians, according to the Air Force.
The Su-27 is a Russian-made jet that was designed to be competitive with so-called "fourth-generation" aircraft used by the Pentagon, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet.
The U.S. and Russia both regularly intercept each other's aircraft, but are expected to follow an internationally recognized set of procedures when doing so in order to avoid accidental collisions. In one example, a Russian jet flew within 20 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance plane in May over the Black Sea, south of Russia. The Pentagon and Russia both said that interaction was carried out in a safe and professional manner.
The U.S. and Russian militaries have had several altercations off the Russian coast in international airspace and waters in the last few years, although none has spiraled into bloodshed.
In April 2016, the pattern included Russian Su-24s zipping no more than a few hundred feet by the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, "dangerously close" to the ship, U.S. officials said.
In another intercept in April 2016, A Russian Su-27 barrel-rolled over another RC-135 and came within 50 feet of the plane. The Pentagon decried the maneuver as unsafe and aggressive.
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