- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Russian warplanes threatened patrolling U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft over the Pacific Ocean last week as the American planes monitored a military exercise in the region, The Washington Times has learned.
At one point during the aerial harassment, a MiG-31 interceptor pilot flew his jet within 50 feet of a P-3 maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane.
The incident was similar to a Chinese aerial intercept that resulted in a collision earlier this year.
One alarming sign of the Russian intercept was a radio message sent by one MiG-31 pilot to his base stating his fire-control radar had "locked on" to the U.S. surveillance plane, U.S. intelligence officials said. A radar "lock" is a pilot's final step before firing a guided missile.
"It was a threatening action," said one official.
A senior defense official said the P-3 flights were legal and that the intercepts occurred in international airspace. This official said the P-3 pilots reported afterward that the Russian warplanes conducted the intercepts in a "professional" manner, despite the closeness of a pass by one of the MiG-31s.
In all, five MiG-31 Foxhounds took part in intercepting two P-3s on Sept. 4 and 5, officials said.
"One of them did get close, but the [P-3] pilot said he didn't feel endangered," the senior defense official said.
The Russian pilot "knew he was getting too close" and eventually broke off the intercept, the senior official said.
According to the officials, the Russian pilot performed an intercept maneuver called a "thump" — the MiG-31 flew close to P-3 then gunned its engine. "The crew got bounced around by jet wash, but that was about it," said an administration official
"This was not like Wang Wei," the defense official said, referring to a Chinese F-8 pilot the Pentagon has called a "hot dog." The Chinese pilot was killed on April 1 when his fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3E electronic surveillance plane over the South China Sea. The EP-3E is an electronic spying version of the anti-submarine P-3 plane.
The latest incident occurred over the northern Pacific Ocean as the P-3 aircraft monitored a Russian submarine exercise near the Kamchatka Peninsula — home to the major submarine base at Petropavlovsk.
The P-3 normally flies with a crew of 11 military service members.
The P-3s were monitoring an exercise that involved a Russian Oscar II attack submarine and a Delta III ballistic missile submarine, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Russian intercepts of U.S. surveillance aircraft come as U.S. and Chinese military officials are set to meet in Guam later this week.
The meeting will be the first session of a U.S.-Chinese military maritime commission to be held since the F-8 collision with the EP-3E. The two sides are set to discuss ways of avoiding future incidents.
After the April 1 collision with the Chinese interceptor, the U.S. EP-3E was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island, in the South China Sea, and its 24 crew members were held captive for 11 days before being released.
Disclosure of the U.S.-Russian incident comes at a delicate time for the Bush administration, which is seeking to coax Moscow into agreeing to U.S. missile defense deployments.
Talks on the issues are set to be held in the next several days.
President Bush spoke by telephone yesterday to Russian President Vladimir Putin. An administration official said the aerial encounter in the north Pacific was not discussed.
The administration has not issued a formal diplomatic protest to the Russians, an administration official said, unlike the response to Chinese aerial intercepts. Diplomatic notes were sent to Beijing to protest dangerous Chinese aerial encounters in the weeks leading up to the April 1 incident.
A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for the P-3 flights, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Russian strategic air forces began a major exercise in the northern Pacific yesterday. The maneuvers will include practice missile attacks, Russia's official Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Strategic Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear bombers and Tu-22 and IL-78 tanker aircraft reportedly will take part. The exercises are set to continue until Friday.
In response to the war games, the Air Force announced on Sunday that it is sending additional fighter aircraft "as necessary" to Alaska and northern Canada to monitor the exercises.
"Norad is the eyes and ears of North America, and it is our mission to ensure that our air sovereignty is maintained," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Pennie, deputy commander in chief of Norad.
"Although it is highly unlikely that Russian aircraft would purposely violate Canadian or American airspace, our mission of vigilance must be sustained," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) statement said.
The statement said the additional U.S. jets would remain at two bases in Alaska and one in Canada until the end of the Russian exercises.
The command took similar action in December as part of an operation called "Northern Denial" after Russian long-range bombers were moved to northern bases in a similar deployment.


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