Second unsafe intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A “Poseidon” by a Russian Su-35 “Flanker” over Mediterranean Sea

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C6F Logo (Photo by CNE-CNA-C6F)

For the second time in four days, Russian pilots flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner while intercepting a U.S. Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft in U.S. Sixth Fleet, 19 April 2020.

On April 19, 2020, a U.S. Navy P-8A aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted twice by a Russian SU-35 over a period of 100 minutes.  The first intercept was deemed safe and professional.  The second intercept was determined to be unsafe and unprofessional due to the SU-35 a conducting high-speed, high-powered manoeuvre that decreased aircraft separation to within 25 feet, directly in front of the P-8A, exposing the U.S. aircraft to wake turbulence and jet exhaust.

In response, the P-8A, which was operating at a constant altitude and airspeed, descended to create separation and ensure the safety of both aircraft.

The unnecessary actions of the Russian SU-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardising the safety of flight of both aircraft.

While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. C6F expects them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and the potential for midair collisions.

This incident follows the April 15, 2020 interaction over the same waters, where a Russian SU-35 flew inverted within 25 ft. of the U.S. P-8A.

In both cases, the U.S. aircraft were operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.

U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs | | April 19, 2020

P-8A T1 Flight to Pax River
Su-35 © Russian Ministry of Defence

Russia has, of course, a very different opinion about the incident:

A Russian fighter jet was scrambled from the Hmeymim airbase in Syria to shadow a US reconnaissance plane flying over the neutral waters of the Mediterranean Sea towards Russia’s military facilities, the Defense Ministry of Russia reported on Monday.

On April 19, the Russian equipment controlling the airspace over the neutral waters of the Mediterranean Sea detected an air target performing a flight towards Russia’s military facilities in the Syrian Arab Republic. A fighter jet from the air defence alert quick reaction force of the Hmeymim airbase was scrambled to identify the target,” the ministry said in a statement.

The plane belonged to the US Navy. The Russian fighter shadowed the US spy plane, the ministry said.