A Russian fighter jet harassed a manned US reconnaissance aircraft over Syria on Sunday amid ongoing tensions between the two militaries. The incident is at least the fifth interaction between US and Russian military aircraft that the US deemed unsafe or unprofessional since the beginning of the month.
On Sunday morning, a Russian Su-35 fighter jet flew approached a US MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft over Syria, forcing the slower propellor plane to fly through the wake turbulence of the larger, faster jet, according to statement from Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the commander of US Air Force Central Command.
The Russian maneuver reduced the US crew’s ability to safely fly the MC-12 and put the four crew members’ lives at risk, Grynkewich said, warning that it was a “new level” of unsafe and unprofessional actions by Russian pilots.
The top US general downplayed the danger over the latest incidents, saying that US forces in the Middle East have the authorities and capabilities to defend themselves if needed.
“If at any point in time, any of our troops sense that it’s a hostile act – a hostile intent – they will defend themselves,” said Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We have a deconfliction channel that [Central Command] operates on a day-to-day basis in order to prevent any sort of incident or escalation. We’re monitoring it very closely.”
Milley said analysts are examining potential reasons behind the uptick while adding that it does not appear to be connected to the fighting in Ukraine.
The latest incident follows a pattern of similar aggressive maneuvers flown by Russian fighter jets against US military aircraft over Syria. Some of the incidents lasted as long as two hours, officials said.
On Wednesday, July 5th, three Russian fighter jets harassed three US drones flying over Syria. The Russian jets dropped parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing the operators of the unmanned aircraft to take evasive maneuvers. One Russian jet lit its afterburner in front of a US drone.
One day later, another Russian fighter jet began dropping flares in front of a US MQ-9 drone over Syria as it was conducting a mission against ISIS targets. Video of the encounter released by the Air Force showed two Russian jets flying near a US drone when one drops flares in an apparent attempt to hit the drone.
The following day, a Russian fighter jet once again harassed three MQ-9 drones, conducting 18 close passes and forcing the drones to react to avoid unsafe situations. Following the incident, the drones carried out a strike against a senior ISIS leader.
And this past Friday, a senior US defense official said another Russian fighter jet flew near an MQ-9 Reaper drone over Syria in an unprofessional manner.