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Pentagon: Russian jet flew too close to U.S. Air Force spy plane

A Russian fighter jet earlier this week stalked a U.S. Air Force spy plane over the Black Sea, the Pentagon has confirmed.

The Russian Su-27 Flanker acted in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner" when it flew too close to an RC-135U spy plane, defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told Air Force Times on Friday.

The Air Force plane was in routine route over international airspace.

"Aircraft intercepts are not unusual, but are normally routine events," Baldanza said. "In this case the intercept was not routine, and the Russian pilot acted in an unprofessional manner that put both the American flight crew and himself at risk. We have addressed our concerns on this matter appropriately."

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, cited by Fox News, said that Russian military and U.S. officials Thursday night discussed via video conference flight safety as a top priority over Syria; however, the Black Sea incident was not called into question.

Sources told the Washington Free Beacon that the Russian jet came at least "20 feet within the US RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft."

Intercepts between Russian, U.S. and other Western European aircraft have increased markedly since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, starting with its annexation of Crimea in February 2014.

Russian military aircraft have also violated International Civil Aviation Organization standards by turning their transponders off in international airspace, Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, told Air Force Times in August. U.S. and NATO aircraft intercept the Russians to make sure they do not pose a threat to commercial aircraft.

"My assessment is up to this point — except in a couple of cases — all of the intercepts and all of the reactions to those intercepts have been done professionally," Gorenc said. "I don't know exactly what's happening in the Pacific. But where I am, and for the majority of the activity that we do, I have not been alarmed at the professionalism of their aviators."

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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