Russian planes that operate close to airspaces of northern European countries pose a threat to civil aviation.
A civil plane, en route from Denmark to Poland, almost collided with a Russian spyplane minutes after departure, Swedish authorities said on Friday.
The Russian aircraft was flying with the transponder turned off; the Swedish Air Force scrambled its JAS-39 Gripen jets to intercept and escort the “intruder”, that they identified as an intelligence gathering type (most probably an Il-20 Coot).
According to Flightradar24.com, the flight involved in the near-miss was SK1755, a Canadair CRJ-200 (registration OY-RJK) from Cimber Airlines departed from Copenhagen, with destination Poznan.
Based on the analysis of the ADS-B data they collected, the dangerous close encounter occurred about halfway between Ystad, Sweden and Sassnitz, Germany, between 11:21 CET and 11:25 CET.
Here’s how the incident developed:
11:18: SK1755 got permission to climb to 25,000 feet 11:21: SK1755 urged to stop the climb at 21,000 feet due military traffic between 23,000 and 25,000 feet. 11:23 SK1755 advised to turn right to avoid military traffic. 11:24 SK1755 reached 21,000 feet and stopped climbing. 11:24 SK1755 passed just behind the military plane and then allowed to continue the climb.
At this link you can see the Sk1755 turn to the right to avoid the collision and stop climbing to 21,000 feet. Obviously, you can’t see the Russian plane, as it was flying, in international airspace, with the transponder turned off, hence invisible to civilian radars.
Image credit: Flightradar24.com
The near collision comes in a period of intense Russian Air Force activity in the Baltics; a surge in missions that are flown without FPL (Flight Plan) nor transponders (sometimes to probe local air defenses readiness) that may pose a threat to civilian traffic in the region.
A Swedish Air Force Gulfstream IVSP Electronic Intelligence plane could be tracked as it flew in the airspace off Kaliningrad Oblast, where some of the most active Russian bases in the Baltic region are located.
The Swedish Air Force operates a pair of S102B Korpen, modified Gulfstream IVSP aircraft used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) missions. These aircraft are equipped with sensors capable to eavesdrop, collect and analyse enemy electronic emissions.
Korpet jets conduct routine surveillance missions over the Baltic Sea, flying high and fast in international airspace close to the area of interest.
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
According to the Swedish media outlet the incursion saw the two aircraft skirt the Polish airspace before heading north, at low altitude, towards the island Öland, in the Baltic Sea. At around 12:00 PM LT, the Russian planes entered the airspace over the Swedish territorial waters south of Öland.
Swedish Defense officials confirmed some Jas-39 Gripen fighters were scrambled from Ronneby airbase, in southern Sweden, to intercept the Russian planes but they did not reach the intruders as the Su-24s, after flying a couple of kilometers on the wrong side of the border, turned again eastbound, most probably towards Kaliningrad.
Even though the Swedish Armed Forces have not officially commented the incident, sources who talked to the Expressen said authorities believe the violation was aimed at probing the Swedish air defense readiness.
A series of photos will bring you aboard a Swedish Gripen during a IAM2014 mission over Iceland.
As we reported last week, from Feb. 3 to 21, Iceland Air Meet 2014 saw fighter planes from Sweden, Norway and Finland fly two to three daily waves in Iceland’s airspace, launching from Keflavik, the main operating base of the exercise.
The following photos, provided by the Swedish Air Force’s 212 Squadron, bring you aboard one of the seven JAS-39 Gripens the Swedish deployed to Keflavik, during some of the reconnaissance missions flown during IAM2014.
During such missions the Swedish Gripens carried the Reccelite pod as done during the Libya Air War in 2011 when the JAS-39 operated from Sigonella airbase in Sicily.
“Colt 21” flight of two lined up on runway 11 for take-off.
“Colt 21” heading for the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) station over the Atlantic after topping off the tanks with Swedish C-130 tanker “Esso 32”.
A 3-ship formation with a Gripen as the leader, overhead Keflavik.
Time for some snacks!
Image credit: Swedish Armed Forces, 212 Fighter Squadron