Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Near Miss

The USNI website reports a near miss flight incident between an Air Force RC-135 and a Russian Su-27 (1).

"The American aircraft was flying in international airspace when it encountered a Russian Su-27 fighter over the Sea of Okhotsk. The Air Force plane took evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting the Russian jet, which reportedly came within 100 feet of the U.S. aircraft.

Pentagon officials have characterized the incident as a blatant attempt to disrupt or interfere with U.S. operations in the area ..."

No mention is made of any supporting combat platform providing assistance to the Air Force plane.

You'll recall that we recently discussed the hazards associated with surveillance flights and passages for unarmed ships and planes and the need to provide immediate armed support to avoid another EP-3 or Pueblo incident (see, “Independent Operations”).  The post was directed at operations near China but Russia, clearly, must now be included in the discussion.

We seem determined not learn any lessons about protecting and supporting our high value assets.


  1. There are two additional examples of unprotected SIGINT assets being attacked.

    In 1969, North Korea downed an EC-121.

    The USS Liberty was nearly sunk by Israeli fighters and patrol craft during the Six-Day War.

  2. Looks like we are headed back to Cold War era pretty dam fast.

    As you might know the "buzzing" of Britain has been picking up lately too.

    Sea and air on this particular day

    ( Tho to be honest escorting their destroyer half way into the atlantic was proberbly just yanking their chain for the plane incident LOL )

    Im sure we are all a big fan of Mr Putin and all feel safer now he is rattling the old dusty saber again.


  3. First when it comes to the RC-135, it has a much longer range then any US fighter, so escorting it would be a major exercise with probably several tankers involved just to get the fighter in the area of the RC-135 and you might need a AWACs to coordinate the whole operation.

    Second I wish there was some more accurate information given on the location of these incidents, whether US planes off the coast of Russia or Russian planes flying near US allies. The one time I read an actual location was where a Russian plane was 500 plus miles east of Nova Scotia and therefore well outside of territorial waters. But unless you looked up the longitude and latitude you would not know from reading the story.

    Most of the reports are so vague about location that you don’t know where they were operating and few reports mention that anything outside of 12 miles is generally international airspace. They mix up ideas like territorial airspace and air defense zones which often extend far out into international airspace. I think this comes from the military wanting to show that they are doing something and the media wanting to sell some papers.

    But this lack of information can turn what is a legal and routine operation into an over sensationalized incident

    1. DJF, your point is valid. In this case, the footnote link to the source article gives the aircraft's position as 60 miles of the Russian coast over the Sea of Okhotsk. Not exactly latitude and longitude but it does give a reasonable localization. Every aircraft has a right to be in international airspace but not aggressively maneuvering within a hundred feet of another aircraft. The point of the post is that if we're going to be conducting operations in areas where we can reasonably predict unsafe or hostile encounters, we need to make sure we provide all the support necessary to ensure the safety of our assets and the crews. To do less is a violation of the trust of the personnel involved. If that means setting up tanking relays, so be it. However, this location was within range of Japanese bases with only moderate effort.

      This also points out the need for longer ranged combat aircraft if we're going to deal with Russia and China in the Pacific. It suggests that the JSF is not ideally suited for this region, a point many have made while wondering why we're pursuing an ill-suited aircraft.


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