A U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian fighter jet Monday in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, according to three U.S. defense officials and a statement from the Navy.
During an encounter that lasted a total of 25 minutes, the Russian SU-27 jet passed directly in front of the US EP-3 aircraft at a high speed, the officials said. The U.S. crew reported turbulence following that initial interaction in which the direct pass occurred, according to CNN.
The SU-27 then made a second pass of the U.S. plane and applied its afterburner while conducting a banking maneuver, which is believed to have caused a vibration that was experienced by the American crew, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy.
Officials so far, have not been able to estimate how close the Russian aircraft came to the U.S. plane, but described the flight behavior of the Russians as the key factor in making the determination the encounter was unsafe.
U.S. officials were not initially aware of whether the Russian aircraft was armed.
The Navy EP-3 was operating out of Souda Bay, Greece, according to Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.
The Navy plane had its transponder on for the duration of the mission but there was no communication established or attempted between the Russian and U.S. aircraft, Pahon said.
The last reported unsafe intercept of a U.S. Navy aircraft by a Russian jet occurred in January when a Russian Su-27 jet flew within five feet of a U.S. Navy EP-3, forcing the Navy plane to fly through its jet wash.
#BREAKING: U.S. EP-3 intercepted in the #BlackSea by Russian SU-27 putting at risk pilots and crew. #USNavy aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity. — https://t.co/7xWaf3vmgcpic.twitter.com/eFhQGutZhr— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) November 5, 2018
The U.S. Navy deemed that intercept unsafe and unprofessional.
Following that incident, the U.S. State Department issued a statement accusing the Russians of "flagrantly violating existing agreements and international law."
In May, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet performed an "unprofessional" intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance plane while it was flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
The Russian jet came within about 20 feet of the U.S. aircraft, one official said, adding that the encounter lasted about nine minutes.
That intercept was described by officials as safe but unprofessional, though a U.S. Navy official told CNN that the Navy does not officially classify aerial encounters that way. The Navy classifies aviation intercepts simply as either safe or unsafe.