Russian jet almost shot down a British surveillance plane flying near Ukraine, and only failed because the missile malfunctioned: report

  • A Russian jet tried to fire on a British spy plane last year, but the missile malfunctioned, NYT reports.

  • Official reports of the incident concluded Russia had not intended it as an escalation.

  • Leaked documents and US defense officials suggest the near-miss was much more serious.

A Russian fighter jet's attempt to shoot down a British surveillance plane in international airspace only failed because the missile malfunctioned, according to The New York Times.

Both leaked US intelligence documents and an account given to the NYT by anonymous defense officials paint a startling picture of the September 29 incident, which appears far more serious than initially reported.

A recently-circulated trove of leaked US intelligence documents called the incident – which took place over the Black Sea off the coast of Russian-occupied Crimea – a "near-shoot down of UK RJ," The Washington Post reported.

The abbreviation refers to the RC-135 Rivet Joint, a reconnaissance aircraft used by the UK's Royal Air Force.

Two unnamed US defense officials described the incident to the NYT as "really, really scary."

In their telling, the Russian fighter jet pilot misheard the radar operator on the ground as conveying permission to fire, locked on to the British aircraft, and only failed because the missile didn't launch properly.

The Russian Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The UK's Minister of Defence Ben Wallace first notified lawmakers of the encounter in October, saying that the aircraft had been conducting routine surveillance in international airspace.

Wallace said that the Rivet Joint was "interacted with" by two Russian armed SU-27 fighter aircraft.

One of the Russian jets "released a missile" in the "vicinity" of the UK plane, which he described as "potentially dangerous."

He said that the Kremlin subsequently assured him it was the result of a "technical malfunction," and that he didn't see it as a deliberate escalation.

Following the incident, the UK temporarily ceased surveillance patrols, later sending them out with an armed escort.

Russian Su-27 fighter jet intercepting a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea in footage released by the US military.
A Russian Su-27 fighter jet seen approaching a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea on March 14, 2023, in video released by the US military.US European Command

Multiple governments have challenged the authenticity and accuracy of the recently leaked US documents, and Insider has been unable to verify them.

The UK's Ministry of Defence told the NYT that "a significant proportion of the content of these reports is untrue, manipulated, or both. We strongly caution against anybody taking the veracity of these claims at face value and would also advise them to take time to question the source and purpose of such leaks."

It declined to provide further comment to Insider.

The new details come a month after a Russian jet harassed a US drone over the Black Sea, causing the drone to crash in an incident that State Department spokesperson Ned Price described as "an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver."

The incidents raise the question of aggression on NATO member states, whose Article 5 doctrine interprets an attack on one as an attack on all.

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