by Sergei Ishchenko for Svobodnaia pressa
Another incident between American and Russian pilots over the Mediterranean should make diplomats hurry up
Last week, military pilots of the United States and Russia during mutual maneuvering over the Mediterranean Sea three times found themselves literally a step away from disaster.
Dangerous incidents occurred on February 11 and 12, 2022. In all three cases, Russian Su-35 heavy fighters forced the US Air Force P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft to change course by risky maneuvering. This is reported by The Wall Street Journal with reference to representatives of the United States Department of Defense.
In one of the episodes, our fighter, which rose from the Khmeimim airbase in Syria, crossed the flight path of an 80-ton jet “American” in such a way that it turned out to be only 5 feet (1.5 meters) away from him. One moment, one wrong movement of the hand of at least one of the pilots — and a terrible thing would have happened.
But why did such an almost deadly ferocity suddenly appear in the air? What actually happened on February 11 and 12 in the Mediterranean Sea?
In those days, the concentration of the two largest naval groups of the combined NATO and Russian Navies in recent decades was ending there.
The basis of the combat power of our task force was the frigates “Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov” (Northern Fleet) and “Admiral Grigorovich” (Black Sea Fleet), missile cruisers “Varyag” (Pacific Fleet) and “Marshal Ustinov” (Northern Fleet), large anti-submarine ships “Admiral Tributs” (Pacific Fleet) and “Vice Admiral Kulakov” (Northern Fleet). As the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation officially stated, “the main purpose of their maneuvers is to work out the actions of the Russian Navy and the Russian Aerospace Forces to protect Russian national interests in the oceans, as well as to counter military threats from sea and ocean directions.”
So far, only three NATO aircraft carriers, led by the American nuclear aircraft carrier Harry Truman, the French Charles de Gaulle and the Italian universal landing ship Cavour, huddled near the coasts of Italy, Croatia and Greece, served as training targets for the crews, of course — with dozens of missile cruisers, destroyers and frigates of combat protection.
It was obvious that during the operation “Neptune Strike-22” announced by the Pentagon and which began on January 24 from the Adriatic Sea, NATO members were rehearsing air strikes against targets in the Crimea and the Kaliningrad region. This was clearly evidenced by the directions of numerous sorties of their carrier-based aircraft. They went into the sky exclusively in the direction of Russia.
It is quite clear that our navy sailors were monitoring these actions with all their might. And they were in constant readiness, in case of an emergency, to make sure that the American, French and Italian pilots who had completed a combat mission, returning from a combat mission, simply had nowhere to land.
For the reason that the decks of their aircraft carriers would disappear under water in a matter of minutes as a result of a massive missile strike by the Russian squadron. Mainly – supersonic anti-ship missiles P-1000 “Marshal Ustinov” and “Varyag”.
But the whole thing is that there is almost no doubt that the Russian admirals in those days had not only these two cruising trump cards up their sleeves against the Neptune-22 Strike.
No one ever announces this in the world, but it is absolutely certain that at the same time NATO aircraft carriers were preparing to attack our submarines. How many of them are in the Mediterranean today — the general public is not supposed to know. However, there is no doubt that at least 1-2 Russian multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet are closely watching the “Harry Truman”, “Charles de Gaulle” and “Cavour” from these depths. Which, like a month ago, plunged at the exit of the polar Gadzhiyev, have not yet appeared in the light of God.
However, I repeat— it is still possible to speak about our nuclear-powered ships that have gone on a training hunt in the Mediterranean, although with confidence, but still presumably. But it is absolutely certain that our diesel-electric submarines with Kalibr anti-ship missiles and 533-mm torpedoes on board are also actively involved in a fierce confrontation with NATO aircraft carrier formations in those latitudes today. This is the Black Sea B-261 Novorossiysk of Project 636.3, better known as the Varshavyanka. And the Severomorskaya B-585 “Saint Petersburg” of project 677 “Lada”.
Moreover, for many years brought to mind in the Arctic, the St. Petersburg diesel-electric submarine for the first time got out on such a long hike, therefore, it is of particular interest to the anti-submarine forces of the probable enemy, who are relentlessly tracking it from the sea and from the air. It is also clear that the main role in such a case is assigned to the basic multi-purpose anti-submarine patrol aircraft P-8A Poseidon.
This relatively new machine was created to become a real thunderstorm of our submariners. To do this, each of them has the latest Minotaur software capable of automatically processing data from onboard search radars and electromagnetic spectrum sensors, making it easier for the crew to process a large array of information. In addition, the Minotaur system can exchange information with other aircraft and helicopters, thus creating a single information network of several aircraft over the sea.
In addition, at a maximum speed of 900 kilometers per hour, Poseidon can patrol at low speeds of only 320 kilometers per hour, remaining in the air for a long time due to the possibility of in-flight refueling. In case of hostilities, Poseidon can be equipped with five anti-ship missiles, depth charges or torpedoes placed in a rotating launcher in the tail. It also has six mounting points on the external suspension for light 324 mm Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedoes.
In a word, it is extremely difficult to escape from the field of view of Poseidon, and if necessary, from under his blow, even for our “Varshavians”, not without reason nicknamed “Black Holes” in the West for their low noise. What to do?
Probably, one of the ways to protect our boats from this threat is to knock the Poseidons off the combat course by all means, to create navigation interference for them during the flight over the patrol areas. It seems that this is exactly what our Su-35s were doing on February 11 and 12, threatening the American crews with a collision.
However, they were not the only ones who did this. And not only on this day over the Mediterranean Sea.
For example, on August 19, 2014, a Chinese J-11 fighter jet flew just 10 meters from another P-8A flying 210 kilometers east of the Chinese Navy’s nuclear submarine base on Hainan Island. And even to intimidate, he made a “barrel” figure with a large radius of rotation.
This caused another diplomatic quarrel between Washington and Beijing. And on May 9, 2017, a Russian Su-27 flew some seven meters from a Poseidon aircraft conducting patrol in the Black Sea.
It is quite clear that there is nothing good for the cause of peace in such a dangerous maneuvering, and there cannot be. Because it can turn into absolutely catastrophic consequences for everyone. But what to do? To agree on the rules of the “game” in the sky during the exercises.
Diplomatic chatter about this between us and the United States has been going on for a long time. Its essence boils down to the conditions under which the parties could return to the Agreement between the Government of the USSR and the US government on the Prevention of Incidents on the High Seas and in the Air Above it from 1972, which has long been dead. This document, let me remind you, among other things, limited the distance to which ships and military aircraft are allowed to approach during mutual maneuvering. But something keeps preventing us from coming to an agreement on this matter.
Although it was Moscow, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, that in May 2016 was the first to formulate and transmit to the United States its proposals on this matter. Since then, annual Russian-American consultations have been held. We missed only 2020. And even then – only because of the covid pandemic.
In the meantime, diplomats are arguing – combat pilots over many seas in a mutual too gambling confrontation often risk their heads. Not only their own, but – it is not excluded! — and all of ours on both continents.