NATO Baltic Air Policing mission is quite busy these days….
According to the Latvian military, on Oct. 28, the German Air Force Eurofighter jets on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at Amari, Estonia, to provide NATO Baltic Air Policing were scrambled to intercept seven Russian Air Force planes flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Regardless to whether the Russian aircraft were involved in one of the frequent training missions in the Baltics or were commuting to/from the Russian airfield in Kaliningrad oblast, the package on Oct 28 represents one of the largest “formations” intercepted by NATO fighter planes during the last couple of years.
Anyway, Russian Air Force missions in the Baltic area have surged, to such an extent NATO presence has quadrupled in the last year: from one nation providing four aircraft in QRA at one base in Lithuania (Šiauliai), to four nations (currently Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Canada) at two airbases (the second being Amari, in Estonia).
One again, Russian Su-27s have been involved in a dangerous close encounter with a plane they have intercepted.
The Swedish Air Force operates a pair of Gulfstream IVSP aircraft, known in Swedish service as S102B Korpen, used for ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) purposes.
The aircraft, based on the American Gulfstream business jet but equipped with eavesdropping sensors, conduct surveillance missions in the Baltic Sea. According to Swedish Air Force officials, during those sorties, the Korpens fly in international airspace, with their transponders turned on, and regularly transmit their position to the relevant civilian air traffic control agency, both domestic and, if needed, foreign ones.
Nevertheless, as reported by the Swedish media outlet SvD Nyheter, the Swedish spyplanes are almost always intercepted by Russian armed fighter jets on Quick Reaction Alert at the Russian airbase in the Kaliningrad enclave.
Most of times such encounters are routine stuff, something that has happened in international airspace across the world, for several decades. However, Swedish officials who talked to SvD explained that the behaviour of the Russian Su-27 Flankers frequently scrambled to intercept the Gulfstreams has become increasingly aggressive.
The most dangerous incident occurred on Jul. 16, between Gotland and Latvia, when a Russian Su-27 Flanker, armed with 6 air-to-air missiles, intercepted one of the two Swedish ELINT jet, and flew as close as 10,7 meters of the spyplane.
Even if there was no real risk of collision, the incident highlighted a behavior that the Swedish military have not seen in previous years, SvD reported. In fact, international procedures recommend not flying closer than 50-150m from other planes during interceptions.
Actually, this is neither the first nor the last time a Russian Flanker performs a dangerous intercept on a foreign air arm’s surveillance plane.
On Apr. 10, 2012, a Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3 Orion flying over the Barents Sea came across a Russian Air Force Mig-31 Foxhound: the Norwegian crew initially observed the Mig-31 twice shadowing the P-3 at a safe distance, then disappearing. Moments later the Russian fighter jet came back from behind the patrol aircraft, so fast and close it was in danger of a mid-air collision.
There are several other similar incidents that did not end with a collision; however, mid-air collisions occur every now and then.
On Sept. 13, 1987, a RNoAF P-3B collided mid-air with a Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker over the Barents Sea.
Although damaged, both planes were able to land safely, but all the episodes we have recalled, from the oldest to the most recent between the Russian Flanker and the Swedish Gulfstream show how dangerous close encounters can be.
H/T Erik Arnberg and Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, a Chinese Su-27 flew dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft over the East China Sea, on Aug. 19.
The P-8, a derivative of the Boeing 737, capable to carry the Mk-54 airborne torpedo and the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and to perform ASW missions as well as ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) tasks, was conducting a routine surveillance mission in international airspace when a Chinese Flanker intercepted it.
Routine stuff, until the Chinese jet flew within 50 feet of the Poseidon “and then carried out a barrel roll over the top of the aircraft” a maneuver meant to threaten the American aircraft, as commented by US officials familiar with the incident who have talked to Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz.
The American jet was one of the aircraft assigned to U.S. Navy’s VP-16, a squadron based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, that has been deployed to Kadena, Okinawa, one the largest U.S. airbases in the Asia-Pacific region, located about 400 chilometers East of the disputed Senkaku islands (Diaoyu for China), since December 2013.
One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.
The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.
According to the information released by the RAF, the Typhoon aircraft, from 3 (Fighter) Squadron, were launched !after four separate groups of aircraft were detected by NATO air defences in international airspace near to the Baltic States.”
The “zombies” (how unidentified aircraft are dubbed in fighter pilots jargon), turned out to be a Tupolev Tu-22M “Backfire” bomber, four Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ fighters, one Beriev A50 ‘Mainstay’ early warning aircraft and an Antonov An-26 ‘Curl’ transport aircraft “who appeared to be carrying out a variety of routine training,” even though the Flankers appear to be armed to the teeth, with 4x R-27 medium range and 2x R-73 short range air-to-air missiles