US and Russian warplanes operating in the eastern Mediterranean came dangerously close in three separate incidents last weekend, including one in which the plane came within about five feet of each other. the other, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The close calls, which occurred in international airspace on Friday and Saturday, involved three Russian Su-35 jet fighters crossing the flight path of three U.S. P-8A surveillance planes, officials said.
The incidents, which were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has massed troops on Ukraine’s borders, demanding guarantees that the country will never join NATO, while President Biden has threatened sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion.
Defense Ministry officials said two of the in-flight encounters were deemed unsafe and the third unprofessional.
“We have raised our concerns with Russian officials through diplomatic channels,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Mike Kafka said in an email.
“Although no one was harmed, such interactions could lead to miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes.”
The Navy P-8A is a slow-flying maritime patrol aircraft, used primarily to conduct surveillance missions. In contrast, the Russian Su-35 is a jet fighter that flies about three times faster and is designed to launch offensive weapons.