American sailors aboard the USS Donald Cook got one intimidating air show over the Baltic Sea yesterday. Russian swing-wing Su-24 Fencers made multiple simulated attack runs on their ship. The maneuvers were said to have been “extremely aggressive” and so low that wakes were kicked up in the water below the jets, Navy officials said.
Here are a few videos of the Russian Su-24’s passes:
Video source: U.S. Navy
The aggressive maneuvers by Russian aircraft occurred both Monday and Tuesday. A Navy press release states that the events began after the USS Donald Cook left the Polish port of Gdynia on Monday. That afternoon a Polish helicopter was training with the destroyer when an Su-24 showed up. The jet would perform no less than 20 passes near the ship. This caused the USS Donald Cook to end flight operations.
The next day the Donald Cook was approached by a Ka-27 Helix helicopter which made seven flights over the ship, taking photographs while doing so. Not long after Su-24s arrived on the scene and began their simulated attacks, making 11 runs in all.
The Russian aircraft were radioed throughout their time near the Donald Cook in both Russian and English. There was no response.
“In my judgement these maneuvers in close proximity to Donald Cook are unprofessional and unsafe” Admiral Mark Ferguson, the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said in regards to the incident.
The Navy added: “We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels.”
There was a similar occurrence nearly a year ago in the Black Sea, which also involved Russian Su-24 Fencers and a U.S. Navy destroyer. It also made headlines, although this recent case seems far more aggressive than the previous one, both by reports and by the videos released of the incidents.
There is a formal diplomatic-military agreement between the U.S. and Russia the precludes making aggressive attack runs on each others vessels, and it is hard to imagine a more aggressive maneuver than the one shown in the video. Now we will have to wait and see if the U.S. makes a formal protest against Russia over the incident.
Obviously Russia does not like to see American Aegis-equipped surface combatants sailing trough the Baltic Sea, a body of water that Russia has long viewed as its own front yard. The region has become a constant flash point over the last two years, one where dangerous aerial intercepts, submarine hunts and massive war games have seemingly become the norm and not the exception.
Making the situation even more treacherous, in recent months Russia has vastly upgraded its strategic capabilities in the region. This includes the deployment of the S-400 missile system to their Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as well as Iskander ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear warheads. The range of these systems cross over multiple borders, putting the sovereignty of NATO nations at risk.
This week’s air show over the Baltic Sea will likely not be the last of kind. In fact, considering the ever more chilly relations between Russia and the west, other threatening and message sending maneuvers are likely to only increase. But they will remain nothing more than that unless this increasing military friction results in an accidental spark, one that could very well end up lighting the region on fire.