A Russian SU-27 jet flew close — reportedly within 20 feet — to a U.S. Navy plane over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday. While the maneuver was deemed safe, it was criticized as "unprofessional" by two defense officials who spoke with CNN.
What's the background?
The Russian SU-27 is a one-man fighter plane. It was developed by the Soviet Union as a counter to the American F-15. The Navy plane involved was a Boeing P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane. The P-8 is the military version of Boeing's 737 airliner.
The U.S. Navy does not classify encounters as "unprofessional," so this will be officially recorded as a "safe" encounter. Lt. Cdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Europe, declined to give an official comment to CNN, but said, "U.S. Navy ships and aircraft routinely interact with military units from other countries."
The U.S. Navy has not yet released an official statement. The incident lasted around nine minutes and occurred in international airspace.
Does this sound familiar?
This is not the first time this year that an incident like this occurred. On Jan. 29, a Russian SU-27 intercepted a Navy EP-3 plane. Like the P-8, the EP-3 is a surveillance plane.
According to U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Ellis, in that case the Russian plane came within 5 feet of the Navy plane's wingtip. Ellis said that the Russian plane could have had serious consequences.
“The smallest lapse of focus or error in airmanship by the intercepting aircrew can have disastrous consequences,” Ellis said. “There is no margin for error and insufficient time or space for our aircrews to take corrective action.”
The Navy released footage of this earlier encounter, in which the Russian plane can be seen just off of the American plane's wing. The Russian jet turned so quickly that the Americans could feel its effects.
A statement from the U.S. Navy said, “The Russian Su-27 then proceeded to enter the flight path of the U.S. Navy EP-3, crossing within 10 feet and executing a sharp dive below, which resulted in violent turbulence for the U.S. EP-3 and its crewmembers.”