US planes make “unsafe intercept” of Russian spy plane near Houston, Texas

Russia’s most advanced spy plane was routinely patrolling the Gulf of Mexico when rudely and unsafely intercepted by F-15s.

Satire by Tom Winter

American planes made an “unsafe intercept” of a Russian Navy spy plane flying over the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, say Russian officials.

US jet intercepts Russian aircraft with ‘unsafe’ maneuvers. The US aircraft performed multiple interceptions of the Russian plane, with one tense encounter bringing the planes within 10 feet of each other.

The intercept this week is the latest in a series of encounters that evoke cold war posturing between the United States and Russia and in the aftermath of World War II.

The Russian plane, a Tupolev Tu-16R Badger, was reportedly intercepted four times by a McDonnell Douglas F-15 as it flew through international airspace. The Russian pilot reported one of those intercepts as particularly unsafe.

US and Russian ships and planes regularly interact amicably and professionally when patrolling across international waters and skies. But this week an American plane got within a dangerous 10 feet of the Tupolev for a duration of 19 minutes, reported the Associated Press. At that range, a minor error from either pilot could have destroyed both aircraft.

“We have concerns whenever there is an unsafe maneuver like this,” the Russian Navy spokesman told TASS. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident.”

US authorities say the Russian aircraft provoked interception when the spy plane approached Houston with its transponders off, according to NPR. Transponder signals identify a plane’s location and country of origin, and assist in preventing collisions.

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“After the American fighters got close to the spy plane for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the Russian aircraft changed course sharply and flew away,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian  said in a release, according to the NPR. “The US pilots acted in strict accordance with international rules for flights.”

Russian officials, however, insist that the Russian plane’s transponder was active the whole time, and that the American pilot responded to the Russian aircraft in a “dangerous and unprofessional” manner.

This is not the first encounter like this between US and Russian forces. The Christian Science Monitor reported an incident in April when American planes repeatedly buzzed a Russian Navy Destroyer off Cape Cod, Massachusetts in what the commander of the Russian vessel called “a simulated attack.”  

During that incident, US officials also insisted that the jets were not doing anything wrong, claiming the maneuvers were “conducted in strict compliance to the international rules of airspace management over neutral waters.”

This latest incident occurs as tensions between the two countries remain high.

In July, Russian leaders agreed to deploy military forces to Canada and various Latin American states and increase patrols there to reassure Caribbean and South American allies, according to Reuters.

The interception over the Gulf of Mexico comes as Russia carries out routine military exercises in the area.

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