- - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Russian Su-27 jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the Pacific northeast recently in an aerial clash not seen since the Cold War.

An Air Force RC-135 electronic intelligence jet was flying a surveillance run some 60 miles off the Russian Far East coast, north of Japan, on April 23 when the incident occurred, according to defense officials familiar with the incident.

The Su-27 flew to follow the RC-135, and at one point rolled sideways to reveal its air-to-air missile before flying within 100 feet of the cockpit in an attempt to unnerve the crew.

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The showdown was video-recorded by the aircrew.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said the Su-27 intercepted the RC-135U as it conducted a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk during the afternoon of April 23.

“The Su-27 approached the RC-135U  and crossed the nose of the U.S. aircraft within approximately 100 feet,” Warren told the Free Beacon in a brief statement. “Senior department leaders have communicated our concerns directly to the Russian military.”

A defense official said the incident was a “reckless intercept” and one of the most dangerous aerial encounters for a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft since the Cold War.

The RC-135 flight was part of Air Force efforts to increase regional spying under the U.S. pivot to Asia. Last month, two Global Hawk drones were deployed to Japan for spy missions in the region. Other electronic spy aircraft also have increased flights in recent weeks.

The RC-135U is code named “Combat Sent” and specifically collects electronic intelligence from radar emissions. The surveillance flight was collecting data on the increasingly-capable air defense systems in the region. A normal crew for the aircraft includes two pilots, two navigators, three systems engineers, 10 electronic warfare officers and six area specialists.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former commander in Alaska, voiced concerns about the provocative Russian action.

“The dangerous intercept by a Russian Su-27 is far worse than we experienced during the Cold War,” McInerney told the Washington Free Beacon. “In my four plus years as the Alaskan [North American Aerospace Defense] region commander at the height of the Cold War, we never saw such recklessness by the USSR.”

McInerney added: “President Putin sees weakness in the current American leadership and is trying to intimidate us. It apparently does not bother this administration.”

The U.S.-Russian aerial close call came two days after Japanese warplanes intercepted two Russian military aircraft conducting anti-submarine patrols near Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Kenneth deGraffenreid, former White House intelligence adviser during the Reagan administration, said the aerial encounter could have turned deadly, based on Moscow’s history of using force in illegal actions against aircraft transiting international airspace.

According to deGraffenreid, the Russians since the late 1940s have shot down 70 U.S. aircraft. That figure includes the Russian shoot down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983, killing all 269 passengers.

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