Russian Su-27 Flanker performs dangerous intercept putting itself within 10 meters of Swedish ELINT plane

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.

On Apr. 23, 2014 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker which flew within 100 feet of the American aircraft.

On Jul. 18 (two days after the interception of the Swedish Gulfstream), an RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplane crossed the Swedish airspace, to escape interception by Russian fighter jets.

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

Image credit: Swedish Air Force via SvD


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. The only peace destabilization is the one of the NATO doing drills near the Russian border. Russia and China are not making drills in Cuba, 90 milles south of Florida, THAT’s will be a real provocation to US.

    The only provocateur here is NATO that don’t have any means to exists, they are always looking for a new enemy, call it ISIS, ISIL, Russia, China, the real deal is to keep to economic-military complex working!

    • Yeah, but you did not address his question. Are you of the opinion that Russia should be free to test Swedish airspace, and that Sweden should avoid ELINT flights even in international space provided that the flight is collecting intelligence on the Russians? You understand the question I’m sure. Please address it.

      As to your points about Russia conducting flight close to US airspace. They would if they could. As a teenager in the 80’s I saw more than a handfull of Tu-95 flights hugging the US coast. It was quite a show watching contrails head to another contrail. Not to mention your post ignores the probes of Alaskan airspace. But perhaps you still consider that to be Russian airspace.

      I think the mature stance to take is that all nations further a double standard that their spying is stabilizing, and the intelligence actions of other states is destabilizing. The result of course is that everyone will always be spying. We as citizens (of all nations) should ask, what are we really getting out of it?

    • Do you have tinfoil hats for the rest of us too? The difference is that the NATO members, are located right next to Russia. With all the provocations Russia has done in the past couple of years, ZAPAD 13, simulated tactical nuclear strikes, simulated cruise missile attacks on Sweden etc, NATO is hardly to blame for the destabilizing process in the Baltic sea. And Russia regularly has excercises next to NATO allies aswell as the Americas (Veneuela is just one of them). Not to mention, a lot of non-NATO countries like Sweden and Finland, rarely has any problems with NATO incursions, whilst have had tons of problems and violations by Russia.

  2. Awesome! As a RC135 crewmember back in the 80’s (Russian) these “reactions” were the ultimate rush – we loved them. The key was hostile intent; “identify type and escort” commands from the ground were not hostile intent and were common, even an occasional zoom climb past the nose or a really, really close escort. Hostile intentions or acts such as radar lock, armed missiles, etc. were NOT the norm (from the Russians) and rarely happened.

  3. Get off the grass! Norway and Russia enjoy good relations! Russia has no need to terrorise Norway or Norway Russia!

  4. We’re so innocent, and the Russians are so aggressive … yeah, a likely story.

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