A RUSSIAN Su-30 Flanker fighter jet allegedly crossed close in front of a US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea at the weekend, turning on its afterburner as it did so.
The violent wake left by the superheated air tossed the US Poseidon into a 15-degree roll from which the pilots had to urgently recover.
The deadly game lasted a total 24 minutes, a Pentagon statement claims, with the Russian jet fighter coming as close as 9 metres.
“The US aircraft was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this Russian behaviour,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Colonel Michelle Baldanza told US media.
“Unsafe actions have the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved.”
Russia’s Ministry of Defence claims its pilot was simply acting to prevent the US from “embarrassing itself”.
Moscow says the US Poseidon was on a course to illegally enter Russian airspace when. It says the Poseidon had ignored signals to turn away before jet was used to deter its approach.
Major General Viktor Sevostyanov told the Defense Ministry-run Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper:
“Only then did the Russian fighter perform the manoeuvre … Our pilots, in fact, helped their American colleagues avoid an international scandal.”
Russian media reports the Poseidon had been rapidly approaching its airspace.
“On November 25, Russian means of monitoring airspace spotted an air target over an international area of the Black Sea that was approaching the state border at a high speed. A Sukhoi-30 jet of the Southern Military District’s air defence was ordered into the air for interception,” Russian state media TASS declares.
“The Russian fighter approached the air target and identified it as a US reconnaissance plane P-8A Poseidon. The actions of the Su-30 crew forced the Poseidon aircraft to change course.”
It’s just the latest in a series of ongoing and increasingly aggressive encounters between Russian and Western aircraft above the Black and Baltic Seas.
In June a Su-27 interceptor closed to within 1.5m of a US RC-135 reconnaissance plane while in international airspace.
The Black Sea has become a political hotspot after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea and its support of insurgents in their attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government. The shooting-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 has been attributed to a Russian missile launcher operating alongside rebel forces.