A Russian pilot made an attempt to shoot down an RAF surveillance plane in 2022, believing he had authorization to do so, according to information obtained by the BBC. The incident, initially attributed to a “technical malfunction” by Russia, has raised concerns about the accuracy of official statements.
The confrontation occurred on September 29, 2022, over the Black Sea, where the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft was conducting a surveillance mission in international airspace. It encountered two Russian SU-27 fighter jets. Intercepted communications between the Russian pilots revealed a different narrative from the official version.
One of the Russian pilots interpreted an ambiguous command from a ground station as permission to target the British aircraft. He fired the first missile, but it failed to lock onto its target, resulting in a miss, not a malfunction. This prompted a heated exchange between the two Russian pilots, with the second pilot vehemently disagreeing with the decision to fire another missile.
The incident highlights a concerning lack of professionalism in the use of language by the Russian side. In contrast, Nato pilots employ precise language when requesting and granting permission to engage targets.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) did not disclose the details of the intercepted communications but emphasized its commitment to protecting the safety of its operations and preventing unnecessary escalations.
Previously, the MoD had accepted the Russian explanation of a technical malfunction, downplaying the incident. However, a leak of secret intelligence documents revealed that the US military had described the incident as a “near shoot-down” and “a potentially dangerous engagement.”
The incident underscores the potential for grave consequences arising from miscalculations and misunderstandings in international airspace. Despite the near catastrophe, the RAF has continued its surveillance flights over the Black Sea, now accompanied by Typhoon fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles.
This incident is a stark reminder of the potential consequences of Russia’s actions, particularly its invasion of Ukraine, which has strained international relations and heightened tensions in the region.