Russian jet’s inverted maneuver in front of US plane risked collision, Navy says

A P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft flies over the Atlantic Ocean, March 29, 2020. A Russian fighter jet's intercept of a P-8A over the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday risked a collision, the U.S. Navy said.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 16, 2020

STUTTGART, Germany — A Russian fighter jet risked a midair collision when it intercepted a Navy aircraft at close range over the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, U.S. military officials said.

A U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft, used for tracking submarines, was flying in international airspace when a Russian SU-35 performed a high-speed, inverted maneuver 25 feet in front of the Navy plane, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa said in a statement.

The encounter with the Russian fighter, which caused turbulence aboard the P-8A, lasted for 42 minutes.

“Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and potential for midair collisions,” NAVEUR said. “The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.”

In Europe, risky encounters with Russian military aircraft have occurred on occasion in recent years, most notably in the Black Sea. But the latest action also comes as the U.S. military contends with the coronavirus.

The U.S. has been forced to cancel numerous military exercises and training plans because of the virus, raising concerns that adversaries could use the crisis as an opportunity to test American military readiness.

The latest incident with the Russians comes one week after U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jets intercepted a pair of Russian maritime patrol planes 50 miles off the western coast of the Aleutian Islands, in what military officials said at the time was a test of U.S. capabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And on Wednesday, 11 Iranian military vessels moved dangerously close to several American ships conducting operations in the northern Persian Gulf, the Navy said.

Last week, as coronavirus cases surged in the ranks, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley issued a warning to rivals.

“I wouldn’t want any mixed messages going out there to any adversaries that they can take advantage of an opportunity, if you will, at a time of crisis,” Milley said. “That would be a terrible and tragic mistake if they thought that.”

Navy crews operating in Europe are taking precautionary measures to guard against the coronavirus, the service said.

This week, Rota, Spain-based destroyers maneuvered in the Black and Baltic seas, while the P-8A Poseidon flew its Mediterranean mission.

“U.S. 6th Fleet remains at sea, ensuring maritime security and demonstrating our continued ability to operate in concert with allies and partners across the European theater,” Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti said in a statement Tuesday.

Twitter: @john_vandiver