Belgian F-16s were dispatched to intercept Russian Su-24s, Su-27s and Su-30s maneuvering over US destroyer in the Baltics.
In the late morning of Apr. 17, 2020, Belgian Air Force F-16s currently deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission intercepted a group of Russian Federation Air Force fighters in the Baltic Sea.
According to the Allied Air Command, “the Russian fighters were maneuvering in international airspace overflying the USS Donald Cook, a US Navy 6th Fleet destroyer currently operating in the Baltic Sea off the Lithuanian coast. The Belgian F-16 conducted a professional intercept and left the scene, demonstrating that NATO remains ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any potential threat.”
Interestingly, the Belgians released some footage filmed from the cockpit (and through the pilot’s Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) as the F-16s shadowed the Russian Su-24, Su-27 and Su-30SM.
The BAF F-16s deployed in Lithuania have been quite busy lately:
The @BeAirForce #NATO Baltic Air Policing mission had a busy week protecting the integrity of the Alliance airspace in the #Baltic region. Our #F16 aircraft and crew performed 5 alpha scrambles. 🇧🇪 pilots intercepted, among others, #SU24, #SU27, #TU134 and #AN26. #BAF #WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/zSiNFF7J9S
— Belgian Air Force🇧🇪 (@BeAirForce) April 18, 2020
Back to the recent Su-24 intercept, this was not the first time Russian Fencers flew very close or directly over NATO warships in the Baltic Sea or Black Sea. In the past, we have observed unusual and aggressive low flybys that could not be considered particularly worrisome as the Su-24s depicted in the clips and photographs were unarmed and probably only conducting “simulated attacks” on the warships at sea not too far from home.
However, the most recent intercept show a significant change: along with the 3,000 lt PTB-3000 drop tanks the Su-24Ms appear to be armed with Kh-25M (AS-10 KAREN) air-to-surface missiles, as noted by AFM Editor Thomas Newdick. The laser guided Kh-25ML is the most widespread tactical air-to-surface missile in Russian service, according to Piotr Butowski’s “Russia’s Air-launched Weapons”. This missile weights 650lb (295 kg) and is equipped with a a 200lb (90 kg) warhead. It has a max range of 10 km, a minimum launch distance after launch from low altitude of 3km and 8km from high altitude. It’s not an anti-ship missile though: for that type of mission, the Su-24M can carry the larger and heavier Kh-31A (AS-17 Krypton) with a range of 50km (31 miles).
BTW, low passages of Russian planes on U.S. Navy warships (and vice versa) are somehow frequent and usually uneventful. However, once, a show of force had a different ending when, on May 25, 1968, a Soviet Tu-16 Badger-F crashed into the sea close to USN carrier USS Essex in the Norwegian sea after a few flybys.