A congressman who served in the Air Force during Operation Iraqi Freedom said the flyover of a U.S. ship by Russian aircraft was dangerously like the technique used to fire at ground targets at low altitude and could lead to an “accidental shooting war.”
One of the Russian jets flew within 75 feet of the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in “multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers” on Monday and Tuesday, according to U.S. European Command.
On Monday, two Russian SU-24 jets made “numerous close-range and low altitude passes” that led the U.S. ship to suspend flight operations until the Russian planes were gone. On Tuesday, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter “conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local.”
“The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship’s commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian,” the statement said.
Russian Defense Ministry Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said today that their planes “made planned training flights above the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea.”
“The route of the Russian aircraft crossed the area where the USS Donald Cook was – about 70 kilometers from the Russian Naval base,” Konashenkov said, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
He added that Russia “frankly speaking even does not understand the reason for such a painful reaction of our American colleagues.”
“The principle of freedom of navigation for the U.S. destroyer, which is staying in close proximity to a Russian naval base in the Baltic Sea, does at all not cancel the principle of freedom of flight for Russian aircraft,” Konashenkov said.
Combat vet Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called the situation “very dangerous.”
“Two points on that,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “No. 1, 75 feet is actually really close. And this isn’t typical operating procedures. If you want a show of force, it’s usually not at 75 feet. And the other issue is they were basically simulating a strafing run on our Navy ship.”
Kinzinger gave “a lot of shout-outs to the commander for exercising discipline in this situation.”
“But had this been, for whatever reason, a real strafing run, we would not have known that until after the first pass, so this is very serious escalation,” he added.
“It’s also worthy to note, I believe, there was a Polish helicopter on board. You know, in 2006 I was in Kyrgyzstan with the military, and the Russians would do this occasionally. They’d overfly our military base just as a show of force, but they would not fly over at 75 feet. And we knew they were just showing off, versus this, which is an extremely dangerous escalation.”
The congressman noted that “these are the kind of things that could lead to an accidental shooting war, which could broadly escalate.”
“Look, our Navy sailors have to defend themselves. And if at any point they feel that this poses a real threat, you may have a situation where we shoot a Russian plane out of the sky, and — and you have an escalation,” Kinzinger added. “This is very dangerous game Vladimir Putin is playing. He’s trying to flex what relatively little muscle he really does have, and I think he’s playing with fire.”