Russian Jets Blocked US Plane in Unsafe Maneuvers Over Mediterranean, Navy Says

Gina Harkins

A pair of Russian planes restricted a Navy pilot from safely maneuvering over international waters for more than an hour, service officials said on Tuesday.

Two Russian Su-35 aircraft on Tuesday simultaneously flew close to each wing of a Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea, according to Navy news release describing the incident. Officials called the incident, which lasted for 65 minutes "unsafe and unprofessional."

It was the third time in two months that Russian aircraft have intercepted Navy aircraft in the Sixth Fleet of operations, the release states.

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"The unnecessary actions of the Russian Su-35 pilots were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, and jeopardized the safety of flight of both aircraft," it adds.

The Navy's P-8A patrol planes, which are modified Boeing 737 Next Generation jets, can track submarines and ships. Military leaders have said that Russian submarine activity is on the rise in Europe and beyond.

After several other recent incidents involving Russian military aircraft -- including one in which a plane flew inverted within 25 feet of a Navy P-8A -- Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, said the country was testing whether the U.S. had developed any weaknesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We just want to make it very clear to them ... there are no vulnerabilities as a result of COVID-19," O'Shaughnessy said last month. Russian reconnaissance aircraft had recently been intercepted in two separate incidents near Alaska.

Tuesday's incident over the Mediterranean, like the other recent incidents, Navy officials said in the statement, was unprovoked. The Navy called the interaction irresponsible.

"We expect them to operate within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents," the Navy release states. " ...Actions‎ like these increase the potential for midair collisions."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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