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.
On Mar. 3, SAS flight SK 681, a Boeing 737 with 132 people on board from Copenhagen to Rome almost collided with an Il-20 Coot, about 50 miles to the southwest of Malmö, Sweden. Thanks to the good visibility, the SAS pilot could avoid the Russian SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) aircraft:the two planes passed 90 meters apart.
Russian Air Force bombers, including Tu-95s, Tu-22s, Su-34s escorted by MiG-31s and Su-27s, as well as Il-20s regularly fly in the Scandinavian region causing alert scrambles by NATO planes providing QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) for the Baltic Air Policing mission.
Top image credit: French Air Force
Those crazy Russians…. Although the Russian aircraft apparently operated with its transponder turned off, that doesn’t mean that it is invisible to “civilian” radar. It does mean that if the plane was in range of ground based radar, it would only provide a primary radar return – basically an azimuth – and no attitude or other flight data. It is clear that the Russian aircraft was being operated in a reckless manner. Having the transponder off in close proximity to civilian air traffic endangers innocents. TCAS systems that airliners and other aircraft use to avoid collisions does not work without active transponders on both aircraft. Does it surprise me that the Russians would do something like this? Absolutely not – it is entirely consistent with their prior aggressive actions towards airliners and disregard for safety.
Makes you wonder though, how do the US, British, French etc. handle civil flights when doing these kinds of sigint missions? Do they have the transponder off (i.e., it’s standard practice), or not? Are they just more careful when planning routes?
We can give a look to the US Navy’s Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations
In brief, US aircraft can fly with transponder off (due ragard does not require transponder on) even during routine or training activities. I would say that RC-135 near Russian or Chinese border fly with transponder off
“Ordinarily, but only as a matter of policy, U.S. military aircraft on routine point-to-point flights through international airspace follow ICAO flight procedures and utilize FIR services. … When U.S. military aircraft do notfollow ICAO flight procedures, they must navigate with “due regard” for civil aviation safety. As mentioned above, exceptions to this policy include military contingency operations, classified or politically sensitive missions, and routine aircraft carrier operations or other training activities. The United States does not recognize the right of a coastal nation to apply its FIR procedures to foreign military aircraft. Accordingly, U.S. military aircraft not intending to enter national airspace should not identify themselves or otherwise comply with FIR procedures established by other nations, unless the United States has specifically agreed to do so.”
Why would the Russian aircraft be “invisible” to civilian radar?
> “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”.
Why invisible to civilian radars? Invisible to SSR, yes. But civilian ATC Primary radars should have seen it, doesn’it?
I’m curious about the attachment on the belly of the fuselage. Is that a radar simile to those of the American jstar or p-3’s or is it just a drop down tank?
Do aircraft that intercept these VVS aircraft (Grippen, F-16, Eurofighters etc) operate with their transponders turned on?