An armed Russian Sukhoi SU-27 Flanker, similar to the one seen here performing at a 2007 air show, flew within 100 feet of a US Air Force RC-135U over international waters north of Japan, the Pentagon acknowledged Tuesday. (Maxim Marmur / Getty Images)
At the height of recent tensions between the U.S. and Russia in April, an armed Russian fighter jet flew within 100 feet of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U and taunted the intelligence-gathering aircraft with an aggressive maneuver over international waters north of Japan, the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time Tuesday.
The April 23 incident involved a Russian SU-27 Flanker over the Sea of Okhotsk along Russia’s east Asian border, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
The RC-135U is a massive aircraft similar to the KC-135 Stratotanker that is retrofitted as a long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
The Russian fighter “crossed the nose” within 100 feet of the U.S. aircraft and “turned a little bit to expose its belly” to the American pilots and show that it was armed with air-to-air missiles, Warren said.
The pilots had no radio communication, he said.
The incident prompted senior U.S. military leaders to contact Russia and express concern, Warren said.
It is unclear why military officials waited almost six weeks before disclosing the incident.
It was at least the second provocative move by the Russian military in April, a time when U.S. and Russian relations were strained by the Russian ground invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this year.
On April 12, a Russian fighter jet made repeated, “provocative,” close-range, low-altitude passes above the U.S. Navy destroyer Donald Cook while it was steaming in the Black Sea. In that incident, the Russian SU-24 Fencer did not appear to be carrying weapons, officials said.