The weak Russia is trying to capitalize on air incidents
Senior US officials in Europe and the US Department of Defense have stated that in both incidents, Russian pilots behave in an unsafe and unprofessional manner.
The original article has been published in Inosmi. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.
Last week, the US Navy watched as the Russian single-seat Su-35 fighter in the sky over the Mediterranean Sea at high speed approached a distance of 7.6 meters from the P-8A reconnaissance aircraft Poseidon, which created turbulence for the American aircraft and put it “pilots and crew at risk.”
A few days later, another Su-35 made a similar maneuver – also over the Mediterranean Sea – flying in front of a patrol anti-submarine aircraft P-8A and dousing it with exhaust from its jet engine.
Senior US officials in Europe and the US Department of Defense have stated that in both incidents, Russian pilots behave in an unsafe and unprofessional manner. According to experts, although these incidents demonstrate a certain manner of behavior for the Russian armed forces, they also indicate that Russia is ready to capitalize on the resonance that such aerial maneuvers cause, even during a pandemic.
The Russian Armed Forces “seem to be trying to show everyone that they are still on the world stage, that they are still on the stage, that they have enough military power,” said retired General Frank Gorenc, former Air Force commander USA in Europe. Gorenz, who was the pilot of the F-15 Eagle, served as commander at the time of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia, when the United States sent its latest aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor, to the war zone as part of military demonstration missions to deter Russia’s aggression .
“It’s not only a pandemic, which has now become a major problem for Western countries, but also a drop in oil prices,” he said during an interview this week. Over the past few weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, has been experiencing serious difficulties due to an unprecedented collapse in the oil market. “Weak powers need to do something,” Gorenz said.
Opportunity to gain fame
Unlike the Cold War, when pilots returned to their bases, reported on the interception they had completed, and then simply proceeded to their next mission, today, overflights of foreign aircraft and other similar maneuvers attract much more attention and become more visible thanks to social networks, as Doug Barry said. (Doug Barrie), Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“You see, information is spreading very quickly today,” Barry said. “Therefore, every time I have to think about whether there is an element of how it will be perceived in social networks and in the Western press, and how useful it will be.”
What is noteworthy, the Russian Su-35 multi-role fighter, which has been significantly modernized over the past few years, has become a participant in recent incidents, – according to Barry, this is a big step forward compared to previous interceptions in which the Su-27 or Su-24 participated. “Perhaps it is not surprising that we began to see these aircraft more often than before. The Su-35 looks great, ”he explained. “The Su-35 is an extremely powerful fighter,” Gorenz added. “Obviously, they are trying to sell it.” And this is a great way to demonstrate its capabilities. ”
Gorenz emphasized that, although such episodes do not occur too often, pilots must abide by the rules of the use of force and try to be as predictable as possible. Signed in 1972, the bilateral Russian-American agreement “On Prevention of and Incidents on the High Seas”, after which another agreement was signed on incidents on the high seas, are documents that establish the basic rules of conduct for both countries that allow safe move close to each other.
As Barry explained, holding Russia accountable for her behavior in international airspace can be difficult. “In a certain sense, such things are difficult to regulate at the legislative level, because in reality it all comes down to the [behavior] of individual units and pilots.”
Most often, interceptions are carried out in a safe manner, but oversights nevertheless occur – due to loss of communication or human or technical errors. For example, in 2018, then-General Petr Pavel, a former chairman of the NATO military committee, told reporters that most fighter take-offs on alert are considered “normal situations”. “From time to time we see some provocative actions, especially in those areas where we have ships and planes,” he said. “But the captain or pilot must decide whether the situation is dangerous or not.”
Last week, Air Force General Tod Wolters, Commander-in-Chief of the NATO Allied Forces in Europe, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of the “unprofessional” behavior of a Russian fighter pilot, who acted on his own discretion, and not Moscow’s conscious attempt to provoke .
“My conclusion at the moment was more unprofessional than intentional,” Walters said on April 16. “Given the unpredictability of the situation, it is necessary to ensure that the distance is safe, and not to make any assumptions. You don’t even have to assume that they see you, because they may not see you, ”Gorenz explained.
Russia is not going to retreat
Like the United States, amid a pandemic, Russia is unlikely to back down from what it considers its military priorities, Barry said. “We are not so different. You yourself see that now the following signals are coming from NATO and the United States: yes, we understand that a pandemic is a serious problem, but we continue to follow national security needs on a daily basis, ”he explained.
General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of the U.S. Northern Command, told reporters on Tuesday, April 21, that the U.S. Army needs to remember that opponents such as Russia will try to exploit any weaknesses in the U.S. their allies during the coronavirus pandemic. “We have taken positions and are ready to respond immediately,” he said.
On Friday, April 24, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper reiterated the same point in his own statement. “Our opponents are not retreating,” he said. “We will continue to do our best to ensure that [the Department of Defense] is ready to defend the United States.” Barry added: “The incident with the Russian Su-35 is partly just a reflection of [reaction]. It’s just a reflection of what Russia is doing. [end]