Russian Fighter Flies Within 5 Feet Of U.S. Reconnaissance Plane Over Black Sea

The U.S. State Department is calling out Moscow after what it describes as a dangerously close pass by a Russian fighter jet near a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea.

"As confirmed by U.S. Naval Forces Europe, a Russian [Su-27] engaged in an unsafe interaction with a U.S. EP-3 in international airspace, with the Russia pilot closing to within 5 feet and crossing directly in front of the EP-3's flight path," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday.

"While the U.S. aircraft was operating under international law, the Russian side was flagrantly violating existing agreements and international law, in this case the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA)," she said.

According to a statement from the U.S. 6th Fleet, the Su-27 reportedly crossed directly into the flight path of the EP-3, "causing the EP-3 to fly through the [Su-27's] jet wash."

The Navy says the interaction between the two aircraft lasted about 40 minutes.

"We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions," Nauert said.

Russia's RIA news agency quotes the Defense Ministry as saying: "After the surveillance plane of the U.S. Navy had changed its course to move away from the border, the Su-27 returned to its base."

The Su-27 is a twin-engine fighter known in the West by its NATO designation "Flanker" that went into service near the end of the Cold War and has continued as a mainstay of Russia's air force. The propeller-driven EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance plane is described by Naval Air Systems Command as "a land-based Multi-Intelligence reconnaissance aircraft."

The incident is the latest in a string of what the Navy says are unsafe incidents in the air over the Black Sea following Russia's 2014 forced annexation of Crimea.

In November, a Russian Su-30 intercepted a U.S. P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft in another incident that the Pentagon described as "unsafe," according to the U.S. Naval Institute. Russian media claimed that the Poseidon was approaching the Russian coastline at a high rate of speed and only turned around after it was intercepted by the fighter jet.

In September 2016, a P-8A was intercepted by a Su-27 that the U.S. Navy says came within 10 feet of the American aircraft.

USNI says that P-8A patrols have followed Russia's "expanded submarine presence in the Black Sea," including four improved Kilo-class diesel-electric boats.

A number of similar incidents between U.S. and Russian military aircraft have also occurred over the Baltic Sea in recent years.

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