F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea

F-35B Russian Navy Eastern Med
The NOTAM that announced the Russian naval activity in the eastern Med. In the screenshots, the F-35B that flew close to the Russian group and two Tu-22M3 bombers (via Russian MOD).

A Russian exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, involving five warships as well as Tu- 142MK, Il-38, Tu-22M3 and MiG-31K aircraft, provided an opportunity for a close encounter with at least one F-35B operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have kicked off an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Jun. 25, 2021. As the Russian MOD announced in a public statement, five ships of the Russian Navy (the Moskva missile cruiser; the Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov frigates, as well as two submarines, the Stary Oskol and Rostov-on-Don), together with Tu-142MK and Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and MiG-31K aircraft are involved in the exercise, whose goal is to train combat forces to ensure the security of two key Russian bases in Syria: Khmeimim airbase and Tartus.

At least two MiG-31K, an Il-38 ASW aircraft, and three Tu-22M3 bombers have arrived at Kheimim airfield in Syria, whose capabilities have been expanded with the extension of the runway and the completion of a second runway. These works, completed in May, have allowed Moscow to deploy its LRA (Long Range Aviation) bombers along with the missile-carrier aircraft to the airbase on the Mediterranean Sea and launch missions from there.

The Russian MOD told reporters on Jun. 28 that the MiG-31K armed with the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile and Tu-22M3 bombers performed training flights escorted by Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft during the eastern Med drills.

“As part of the joint exercise, the crews of MiG-31K aircraft, capable of using the latest hypersonic missiles from the Kinzhal missile, and long-range Tu-22M3 bombers made regular training flights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, during which they completed the tasks of mastering the air space in maritime zone”, said the Defense Ministry. Some simulated missile launches were carried out by the MiG-31s using the Kinzhal missile during exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Interfax.

For some context, here’s what we wrote when the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted the first successful test firing of the Kinzhal in 2018:

Kinzhal is claimed to be a strategic air-to-surface strike missile. The missile is claimed to have maneuverable flight characteristics not typically seen in hypersonic, solid fuel missiles. Observers of Russian missile programs have voiced skepticism about Russia’ performance claims however. According to Russians and reference sources the Kinzhal missile has a top speed of Mach 10 and maintains some ability to maneuver throughout its performance envelope including at hypersonic speed. If accurate, these capabilities could make the Kinzhal difficult to intercept by anti-missile systems. The missile is reported to have a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). This, added to the reported 1,860-mile unrefueled range of the MiG-31BM long range, supersonic interceptor, gives the Kinzhal potentially intercontinental strike capability. The missile is also reported to be nuclear-capable and able to hit ground as well as naval targets.

Footage released by the Russian MOD provides also some additional details. First of all, the Tu-22M3 flew with Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missiles in the video. Indeed, the Backfire was primarily developed as an anti-ship missile carrier for the Soviet/Russian supersonic Kh-22/32 anti-ship missiles with range of up to 1,000 km (621 miles) as well as for smaller Kh-15 missiles with range of up to 300 km (160 miles).

Interestingly, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently reportedly operating in the Med Sea, south of Cyprus. It seems quite likely that the Russian aircraft have carried out already (or will, in the next days) perform some simulated attack on the British aircraft carrier and her strike group. For sure, the proximity between the has already provided an opportunity for a close encounter, as proved by a video, also released on Jun. 28, showing an F-35B from HMS QE flying near Russian Admiral Makarov frigate.

As already explained, on her maiden operational deployment (dubbed CSG-21), HMS Queen Elizabeth, with F-35B jets belonging to both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, is heading to the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, as planned, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier will supporting counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. During her stay in the Med, it’s quite likely the Russians will keep an eye on the British aircraft carrier group and viceversa.

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.