Russian defense ministers are dismissing US criticism involving two Russian pilots who flew dangerously close to an American guided-missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea twice this week.
Defense officials say that two Russian Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft approached the USS Donald Cook at “unsafe” speed and altitude while an allied helicopter was taking off from the flight deck. The aircraft passed “below the bridge wing”, meaning that they were flying below the Donald Cook’s navigation bridge.
The Fencers, while unarmed, continued to inch closer and closer to the American ship. While the initial encounter on Monday occurred about 1000 yards from the destroyer, the following fly-by on the next day was within 30 feet at attack speed- as indicated by the formation of the Fencers and sweep angle of the aircraft’s variable-sweep shoulder wing.
While the impromptu mock-attack airshow performed by the Russians temporarily shut down flight operations until the Fencers left, Russian defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said he was confounded by the “distressed reaction of our American counterparts,” according to the Associated Press.
The incident is currently being handled through diplomatic channels, as the US believes Russia may have violated a long-standing agreement from the 1970s that was designed to prevent unsafe incidents at sea.
Despite this agreement, White house press secretary Josh Earnest said the incident was indicative of unprofessional flying by the Russian pilots.
“This incident is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace,” Earnest said. “There have been repeated incidents over the last year where the Russian military, including Russian military aircraft, have come close enough to each other or have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns. We continue to be concerned about this behavior.”
The incident isn’t the first -or last- time the Donald Cook has been harassed by the Russians. In 2014, Russian media reported that a Fencer bomber carrying electronic warfare equipment crippled the Donald Cook’s systems before carrying out a mock assault- though US Officials deny that the event took place as such. After this week’s Fencer fly-bys, a Russian Helix helicopter flew over the Donald Cook, taking photographs as it circled the ship seven times.
At the time of the Russian interception of the destroyer, the Donald Cook was 70 nautical miles off the coast of Kaliningrad, Russia.
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