Pentagon: Russian intercept of US plane 'sloppy airmanship'

Pentagon: Russian intercept of US plane 'sloppy airmanship'
© Russia Today

The Pentagon on Monday denounced a recent incident in which a Russian pilot intercepted a U.S. aircraft over the Baltic Sea as "sloppy airmanship." 

"Frankly, this is an example of sloppy airmanship on the part of a Russian pilot," Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters. 

Warren said there was "certainly" the risk of a collision between the two aircraft — a Russian SU-27 jet fighter and a U.S. RC-135U reconnaissance plane — during the incident on April 7, which was first reported Friday by the Washington Free Beacon. 

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Warren added that the U.S. aircraft was flying "a routine route in international airspace" when it was intercepted by the Russian jet "in an unsafe manner."  

He said the Russian jet approached the U.S. plane at a "high rate of speed," and performed maneuvers that the U.S. crew found "exceptionally unsafe" and "a blatant display of unprofessionalism."  

One maneuver included "tilting in such a way to show off the weapons that it was carrying," he said. 

Warren also disputed Russian claims that the U.S. aircraft's transponder had been turned off, and said there was no communication between the two aircraft.

"U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international civil aviation rules of flight in international airspace, exercising freedom of navigation overflight, and at no time crossed into Russian national airspace," he said. 

"These types of 135U patrols are common, and frankly, intercepts of these types of flights are common," Warren said. "What's uncommon is for a pilot in this case, a Russian SU-27 pilot, to flagrantly disregard international standards of safety and professionalism." 

Warren said although the incident occurred under the "umbrella" of increasing Russian aggression in the region, it was a fairly isolated incident.

"[It's] uncertain why this pilot was such a sloppy aviator — could be that he wasn't very well trained, could be that he wanted to prove something. Either way, it was a fairly isolated incident," he said. "We are through the State Department taking all the appropriate steps." 

Warren said the last time such an event occurred was roughly six months ago.  

U.S.-Russian tensions have increased since March 2014, when Moscow invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.  

Since then, Western officials say Moscow has been supplying and training pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, fueling an armed conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 6,000 Ukrainians. 

The U.S. and the European Union have levied sanctions on Moscow but have so far refused Ukrainian requests for weapons, instead providing economic, humanitarian, non-lethal military support. 

Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters last week that Russia has been increasing its flights near North America, to prove to the U.S. that it is a "global power."