Russian fighter jet intercepts US bombers on first day of European deployment
Stars and Stripes May 24, 2023
A Russian fighter jet intercepted two B-1B Lancers from Texas over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday as the bombers began a deployment in the European theater.
The Lancers from Dyess Air Force Base’s 7th Bomb Wing conducted a NATO mission with allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region on their way to a routine deployment at RAF Fairford in the U.K., U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa officials said in a statement Tuesday announcing the bombers’ arrival.
The Defense Department downplayed the intercept, calling it a safe and professional interaction.
“Nothing significant to report on that front,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Tuesday.
The Lancers remained in international airspace, a spokesman for U.S. European Command said Wednesday. Two more B-1Bs are expected to arrive Thursday, USAFE said.
The Kremlin scrambled a Su-27 fighter to intercept the bombers as they approached the Russian border, the Russian news agency Tass reported Tuesday, quoting a Russian National Defense Operations Center statement.
U.S. military officials in Europe did not specify exactly where the encounter occurred. However, the Russians said their border wasn’t violated, according to Tass.
Consistent surveillance of the international waters and airspace of the Baltic Sea, which serves as a critical economic corridor, “preserves safe and secure passage for all,” USAFE said in a statement.
Such encounters are not uncommon over the Baltic and Black seas, where NATO aircraft routinely patrol the skies.
In April, allied aircraft intercepted three Russian military planes flying without transponders over the Baltic Sea, according to Germany’s air force. The incident came about one month after a Russian fighter jet collided with a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, causing the unmanned aircraft to crash into international waters.
The latest intercept comes as tensions over the Russian war in Ukraine continue to simmer.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, a reversal after months of White House messaging that the costs and time involved in doing so were prohibitive.
In response, Russia said the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine would raise the question of NATO’s role in the war, Reuters reported Monday.
USAFE did not say how long the B-1Bs will remain at Fairford, where they arrived after a 12-hour mission from North America.
They are part of a “steady rotation” of bombers in support of EUCOM and NATO deterrence initiatives, the command said.