Navy Says 'Irresponsible' Russian Fighter Interception Jeopardized Safety of U.S. Spy Plane

The U.S. Navy has again criticized the conduct of Russian fighter pilots operating in the Meditarranean Sea, after what it called the third "unsafe" interception of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft in the past two months.

The U.S. 6th Fleet issued a statement and two videos detailing the "irresponsible" Russian maneuvers, as two Su-35 aircraft shadowed a Navy P-8A patrol and reconnaissance plane over the Eastern Mediterranean for more than an hour on Tuesday.

The intercept, which lasted 65 minutes, "was determined to be unsafe and unprofessional due to the Russian pilots taking close station on each wing of the P-8A simultaneously, restricting the P-8A's ability to safely maneuver," the 6th Fleet statement explained.

"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," the Navy added.

The latest U.S protest comes after two similar incidents in April when P-8A aircraft were intercepted over the Eatsern Mediterranean. In both cases, the Pentagon accused the Russian pilots in question of acting unprofessionally and endangering the U.S. aircrews.

In the second such incident, the Navy said the Russian pilots carried out a "high-speed, high-powered maneuver that decreased aircraft separation to within 25 feet," exposing the U.S. plane to turbulence and jet exhaust which forced the American pilots to "descend to create separation and ensure safety of both aircraft."

The 6th Fleet said Tuesday that the latest interception—which took place in international waters—was "irresponsible." It called on Russian pilots "to operate within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents," warning, "Actions like these increase the potential for midair collisions."

It is common for Russian and American aircraft to intercept each other in strategic locations and along each other's borders. In April, American F-22 jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian maritime patrol planes some 50 miles off the western coast of the Aleutian Islands near Alaska.

Russian aircraft patrol the Eastern Mediterranean from the Khmeimim air base in western Syria, which is the fulcrum of Moscow's military presence in the country. Russian naval forces also operate out of the Tartus base on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

The U.S. and its Western allies have launched multiple strikes on Syrian targets, seeking to undermine President Bashar al-Assad who counts Russian President Vladimir Putin as his most influential backer, despite recent reported tensions between Damascus and the Kremlin.

Tuesday's interception came as news broke that Russia has deployed several fighter jets to a base in Libya, where Moscow is backing Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army in the ongoing civil war there. The LNA—also backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—is fighting against the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord.

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This file photo shows a Russian Su-35 fighter landing at the Russian Khmeimim air base in Latakia province, Syria on May 4, 2016. VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP via Getty Images/Getty