Navy Condemns 'Unsafe and Unprofessional' Russian Pilots Over Repeated High-Speed Fighter Interceptions

The U.S. Navy has condemned "unsafe" practices by Russian pilots after an American surveillance plane was intercepted at high speed over the Mediterranean Sea this weekend—the second such incident in a week.

The Russian Su-35 fighter conducted two intercepts of a P-8A submarine reconnaissance plane on Sunday, according to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, flying within 25 feet of the American aircraft.

The Navy did not say exactly where the interceptions took place. Though the first was deemed safe, the Navy said the second interception was "unsafe and unprofessional." It accused the Russian pilot of carrying out the "high-speed, high-powered maneuver that decreased aircraft separation to within 25 feet."

The Russian maneuver exposed the U.S. plane to turbulence and jet exhaust, forcing the American pilots to "descend to create separation and ensure safety of both aircraft," the Navy statement said.

BREAKING: Another unsafe #Russian 🇷🇺 intercept of 🇺🇸 @USNavy P-8 in international airspace above #Mediterranean Sea! The Russian aircraft got within 25 feet of the P-8, putting both crews in harm’s way. We expect nothing less than professional & safe interactions!@USEmbRuPress

— U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (@USNavyEurope) April 19, 2020

"The unnecessary actions of the Russian Su-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardizing the safety of flight of both aircraft," the Navy added. The statement noted that both aircraft were in international airspace when the incident occurred.

On Wednesday, another U.S. P-8A was intercepted by a Russian Su-35, which again came within 25 feet of the American aircraft. On Thursday, U.S. European Command's Gen. Tod Wolters said he did not think that the aggressive interception was evidence of a more belligerent Russian strategy.

"I've studied the intent, and my conclusion at this point is that it was probably something that was more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate," Wolters said.

The Navy statement released Sunday after the second incident said that in both cases, "the U.S. aircraft were operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity."

U.S.-Russian aerial interceptions are common in key strategic locations and around the borders of each country. Earlier this month, for example, American F-22 jets intercepted two Russian maritime patrol planes some 50 miles off the western coast of the Aleutian Islands near Alaska.

Military officials suggested that the flight was a test of U.S. response capabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen all 50 U.S. states put under a major disaster declaration.

Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy told Fox News after the incident that the Russian aircraft did not enter either American or Canadian airspace, and that U.S. forces remain "always ready to defend our great country."

Russia, US, interception, fighter, jet
This file photo shows a Russian Su-35 jet over Le Bourget airport, near Paris, on June 23, 2013. ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images/Getty