“U.S. spyplane almost hit two passenger jets over the Sea of Japan” Russia MoD says

According to the Russians, an American RC-135 flying close to Russia’s eastern border nearly collided with two civilian flights.

According to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, a U.S. spyplane flying over the Sea of Japan, in international airspace, near Russia’s eastern border, was involved in two near collisions with passenger planes in a matter of a few hours.

According to the State-controlled media outlet Sputnik News and to the Interfax agency, Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov acknowledged that American spy planes conduct flights along eastern Russia daily, but “this time, while maneuvering along the international air route, the US spy plane created a real threat of collision for passenger aircraft, which could lead to catastrophic consequences.”

The Russian spokesman criticized the American aircrew for their “unprofessional actions” that could lead to a disaster while the Russian Defense Ministry has summoned a US defense attaché calling for an immediate explanation of the incident.

The near-misses involved a Swiss and a KLM flights.

The first incident occurred as a U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint, launched from Kadena Air Base, flying over the Sea of Japan at an altitude of 33,000 feet, switched off its transponder, becoming almost invisible to the civilian radars and flew directly into an international air route traversed by KLM Dutch Airlines and Swiss Airlines (Tokyo-Zurich).

At 5:41am local time, Russian radar controllers radioed “last-second commands to a Swiss Airlines passenger jet to lower their altitude to prevent a collision. The instructions, provided by the staff at the Valdivostok regional air traffic control center, came after the Swiss crew radioed that they had made a visual observation of a four-engine plane moving toward them.”

The second near-miss involved a Boeing 777 flying scheduled service Tokyo-Amsterdam that was instructed to change its route when an “unknown aircraft,” later identified as the same US RC-135 intelligence gathering plane, flew towards the Dutch airliner.

Russian Air traffic Control detected the spy plane on radar at an altitude of 36,000 feet: it was instructed to turn away but it failed to respond to the Russian controllers and to provide identification (according to Interfax). For this reason, the Boeing 777 was forced to descend some 1,600 feet (500 meters) to “narrowly avert collision.

Although close encounters between U.S. and Russian spyplanes and interceptors occur quite regularly (featuring also some pretty aggressive maneuvers that always spark complains), near collisions between these ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) aircraft eavesdropping the enemy’s communications and emissions and civil jets are much rarer.

On Mar. 3, 2014, a SAS Boeing 737 was forced to perform an evasive maneuver to avoid a Russian Il-20 Coot intelligence gathering aircraft off Sweden.

Spyplanes operate in “due regard,” with transponder switched off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following.

Although they should avoid interfering with civil traffic they sometimes fly dangerously close to some busy airways, causing some concern.

The Pentagon has recently protested for the “reckless” and “unprofessional” behaviour of the Russian pilot who buzzed the RC-135s and flew dangerously close to the American aircraft in the Baltics.

This time it’s the turn of the Russian MoD to protest for “unprofessional actions”: another sign that nothing has changed; we live a second Cold War.


About David Cenciotti 4428 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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 four books.


  1. The constant presence of American spy aircraft around Russian air space clearly marks the much better political posture the United States enjoy over Russia. Their allies are all around Russia (all around the world actually) and allow for such fights to happen. Also from a technical standpoint the advantage is all on the side of the Americans. The 707 airframe itself is not that advanced when its specifics, but they enjoy a wide logistics all over the bases around the world and the support of a huge tanker fleet. Finally, the Americans have and the possibility and will to spend tons of dollars to fund these missions.

    Could anyone imagine the US under constant skirting by Cuban/ Venezuelan based Tu-142 or Il-20? They lack the logistics, tanker fleet, political support and budget to do something like that. Still that would be kind of ironic.

    • not to mention if there is a crash, they we can just blame it on some rebels or “aggressor force”. Or like the case in Iran flight 655, just pay a settlement but admit no wrong doing. With that kind of power, you never loose.

    • Well we did have that and still to do some extent. The airspace of Alaska is constantly undergoing similar treatment. Also during the Cold War the East Coast of the US was constantly skirted by Tu-95 flights to Cuba and back. As a teen in1980’s New Jersey I used to watch Tu-95 bomber contrails get intercepted by F-106 contrails from Atlantic City NJ Air National Guard. Sometimes, I’d watch F-15’s from Virginia rush up and pick up the intercept from the NJ ANG. It was quite a show if you knew what to look out for, and were lucky enough to see it when it went down. I’m sure you also remember recent probings by the Russians of Tu-160’s off the West Coast.

  2. “U.S. spyplane almost hit two passenger jets over the Sea of Japan” Russia MoD says

    Of course they do. One has to wonder what goes on inside the heads of the Russian MoD. They’re not idiots. Surely they know that no one believes anything they say. Must be very, very surreal working in such a pointlessly propaganda-heavy environment, knowing deep down inside how much more international respect they’d have if they made honesty and forthrightness the norm instead of the once-in-a-blue-moon rarity. But, I guess that’s what you get from decades of wounded pride and Communism and puffed-up cowardly schoolyard bullies for leaders.

    • They’re not talking to you. They’re talking to their own people, and their fans overseas. It’s a means of whipping up fear of the US, and getting it out there, that Russia is surrounded. It’s much like how the US whipped up war fever after 9/11.

      • In other words, how the USA whips up fear of Russia for its own people and the fans overseas.

  3. This is Soviet propaganda. Flightradar24.com does not show any Swiss Air Tokyo to Zurich flights changing altitude like this over the Sea of Japan. The flights do not even reach 33,000 feet until they are over Russia. Plus, it is very unlikely US patrols would change their SOP so dramatically.

    • FR24 does “interpolate” a lot of data, where they got no real ones,
      including making up the most probable flight path data. Get some real
      proof next time – like some flight recorder data.
      How does TAV dare to criticize the exceptionalists? The trolls will fly like flies on a turd.

    • Soviet propaganda?

      The 80s called. They want their rhetorical nonsense back.

      I think you live 30 years in the past. The Soviet Union as a communist state ceased to exist long ago. Russia is a capitalist state. They just have their own interests. Of course the neocons don’t want a strong Russia. They want a Russia like it was in the 90s, when a drunkard “ruled” the country and sold it out to oligarchs.

  4. I would not believe the Russian MOD if they announced the time of day.

    • Certainly the time(s) of day they announce would not be the right one in
      yank time zones (ever heard of those?). Global Yank Time… is coming.

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