Russian Fighter Flies Within 20 Feet of U.S. Navy Plane

Russian Fighter Flies Within 20 Feet
Russian Fighter Flies Within 20 Feet

Su-27SM3 of the Russian Air Force, an improved version of the original jet with upgraded fire control and air-to-ground capabilities

A U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft was the subject of an “unprofessional intercept” by a Russian Su-27 interceptor, according to several news reports.

The Russian jet reportedly came within 20 feet of the larger plane. The U.S. Navy has stated that despite the proximity of the two planes the event was “safe” and that it does not comment on safe interactions.

The incident took place on Tuesday, May 1 over the Baltic Sea. The U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol plane was flying a routine surveillance mission near Russia when the Su-27 rose to intercept. The incident lasted about nine minutes

The P-8A Poseidon is a maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Based on the Boeing 737 commercial jetliner, the P-8A has advanced sensors that enable it to detect and track submarines. The Poseidon has a bomb bay for carrying anti-submarine torpedoes and depth charges, and can carry Harpoon anti-ship missiles on its wings.

 U.S. Navy aviation ordnanceman loads a AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missile onto the wing pylons of a P-8A Poseidon
U.S. Navy aviation ordnanceman loads an AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missile onto the wing pylons of a P-8A Poseidon


The Sukhoi Su-27 “Flanker” fighter/interceptor is a Cold War-era jet roughly comparable to the American F-15 Eagle that was originally designed as a heavy, long-range air superiority fighter. Upgrades over the last 30 years allow it to take on air-to-ground missions as well. It is a highly maneuverable, twin-engine fighter with a top speed of Mach 2.35. Although dated and superseded by the Su-30 and Su-57 fighters, the Su-27 is more than adequate for dealing with aircraft without air-to-air combat capability, like the P-8A.

Incidents such as this occur on a semi-regular basis. Due to the Navy’s policy of not announcing “safe” interactions, we don’t know exactly how often this happens. We know only about leaked incidents such as this one and “unsafe” ones. In one January 2018 incident the Navy classified as unsafe, a Su-27 came within five feet of a EP-3 Aries II spy plane.

In April 2001, a Chinese J-8II fighter jet clipped an EP-3 over the South China Sea, causing the fighter to crash into the Pacific Ocean. The pilot was never found and presumed lost at sea. The damaged EP-3 was forced to land on China’s Hainan Island, where the crew and aircraft were detained until negotiations secured their release.

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