Multiple Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. destroyer patrolling in the Black Sea last week, in an incident the captain of the American ship called “unsafe,” the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The three flybys occurred on Feb. 10 and were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.
Lt. Col. David Faggard, a U.S. European Command spokesman, said the USS Porter, an Arleigh-Burke Guided Missile Destroyer, was returning from an exercise off the coast of Romania when an Il-38 sub hunting twin-engine aircraft approached at a high speed and low altitude. The Il-38 was followed by two Su-24 fighter-bomber jets and then a single Su-24.
Mr. Faggard said the aircraft did not respond to radio calls and that they did not have their identification transponders turned on. He could not confirm whether the jets were armed and would not specify the altitude of the aircraft.
“Incidents like this are concerning because a miscommunication could turn into an accident or miscalculation,” Mr. Faggard said, adding that the captain of the Porter called the flybys “unprofessional.”
During the campaign, President Donald Trump had suggested that such incidents show “how low we’ve gone that they can toy with us like that.” He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be warned in a phone call to stop, and if the flybys continued, then “when that sucker comes by you, you gotta shoot.”
U.S. military forces have continued to deploy into Eastern Europe under plans laid out under the Obama administration. Russia has routinely decried the troop deployments and Navy maneuvers as NATO provocations.
Last week’s incident fits a pattern of “unsafe” Russian aircraft activity that has spiked since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, beginning in 2014. The most recent close call around the Black Sea occurred in September when a Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft made a “close range intercept” with a U.S. P-8 Poseidon, a maritime surveillance plane.
In April, there were multiple encounters with Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Two Su-24s and a flight of helicopters buzzed the destroyer the USS Donald Cook and an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in two separate incidents. The jets came within 30 feet of the Cook’s rear deck, and the RC-135 was on a “routine” mission when an Su-27 barrel rolled over it from wingtip to wingtip.