“U.S. spyplane violated Swedish airspace to escape interception by Russian jets”

A U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint violated the Swedish airspace recently in an (unconfirmed) attempt to escape interception by Russian fighter jets, Swedish media outlet says.

According to DN.se, on Jul. 18, an RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplane crossed the Swedish airspace, during a reconnaissance mission flown over the Baltic Sea.

U.S. SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) aircraft from RAF Mildenhall have been flying daily missions over the Baltics since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis.

Noteworthy, on Jul. 18, the day after Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, the American aircraft was met twice by Russian interceptors launched by the Russian base just outside Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.

Even if this kind of close encounters take place quite often with Russian and U.S. planes intercepting one another all around the world, the RC-135 reacted in a different way to the second intercept attempt by the Russian fighters. Indeed, the RC-135 asked the permission to cross the Swedish airspace, but when the ATC (Air Traffic Control) center denied the clearance, the Rivet Joint decided to proceed and flew over Gotland island.

Although UK-based RC-135s have flown more than 50 missions in the region, sometimes flying over Poland, sometimes into Lithuania and Latvia, and sometimes over the Baltic Sea near the Russian base in Kaliningrad to eavesdrop Russian signals and collect intelligence data, this was the first time, according to DN.se, that the American plane apparently reacted to the interception attempted by the Russians with an unauthorized short-cut over Sweden.

After overlying Sweden largest island, the RC-135 turned southbound reached the international airspace before entering the Swedish airspace off Oland.

Violations of Swedish airspace are quite frequent (and, sometimes they do not face a response by the Swedish Air Force‘s Gripen jets): seven violations were recorded in 2014, and a total of 53 aircraft have flown without permission inside Stockholm’s airspace since 2009, DN reported.

Image credit: DN.se

H/T to Lars-Gunnar Holmström for the heads-up

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. If i were Swedish I would have shot down American and Russian planes both…why can’t they fly in their airspace and not violate the others?

    • US restricted Airspace is THE most frequently violated on Earth, 3400 per year with up to 200 of those being intercepted and forced down

      Because they were collecting Intel, intel that’s gone towards Russia not invading over the past 60 years

      Sweden = typical US citizen, all the demands for its rights while fulfilling none of its obligations & duties

    • The Swedes are only neutral on paper these days. When the Polish tried to buy some Saab Grippens, they were told “you are either with us or against us” – the Swedes naturally bent over and took a large one for the team. Then there is the Julian Assange case which is another bending over.

  2. Were I flying that RC-235 Rivet Joint and given a choice between:

    1. Getting intercepted by Russian fighters who might try to force me to land at one of their airfields, creating an international incident.

    2. Making a few Swedish ATCs unhappy,

    I’d choose the latter. Personally, I tire of neutrals who stay a little too neutral.

    A story is told that in the days of the SR71, when Blackbird spy planes were flying out of the UK to monitor the Near East, the French banned overflights, forcing the pilots and their refueling tankers to take a much longer and more exhausting route around.

    One Blackbird, faced with engine problems, decided to overfly France to be sure of making it home. It must have been cruising slowly, because over Northern France it was intercepted by a French fighter that probably had its throttle wide open as it came on the radio wanting to know their “overflight authorization” number. The guy in the rear, it is said, gave an obscene gesture in lieu of that number, while the pilot shoved the throttle forward, leaving the French interceptor bobbing in his wake.

    Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

    Here’s a report on the SR-71’s replacement:


    • They have the short range air defense system “RBS-70”. Other than that they rely on the Gripen.

      • Sweden has a couple ground based missile systems, both employed, and in development. Saab BAMSE is in service.

    • Good comment! Especially for a country (Sweden) which has always (historically) excelled as a highly respected and well self-defended airspace.

      One could indeed ponder that Swedes would be a top-notch world developer and manufacturer of long-range SAM today, as they also are of fighter-interceptors.

      Perhaps at least something along the lines of a ground-based SM-6 (with dual-IIR seeker, perhaps).

  3. I love it when americans think the world is theirs to do what they want….thanks to God that won’t last for too long.

  4. So let’s abolish all sovereignty on national airspaces, US planes can fly without permission everywhere because they protect everybody…come on! USA are spying on UE countries, just let them do everything they want…the way USA treats UE allies is just disrespectful

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