Russian fighter jets carried out aggressive maneuvers around NATO aircraft operating over Syria on Thursday, according to the US military. This incident is another instance of what officials have labeled as “unsafe and unprofessional behavior” by Russian pilots in the region. Over the past few days, there have been at least six incidents of Russian harassment towards NATO aircraft.
The confrontation occurred when a number of US military MQ-9 Reaper drones were conducting a mission against the Islamic State at 9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday. Russian Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets approached the Reaper drones, performing aggressive maneuvers and deploying flares in front of them. Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT), stated that the Russian pilots flew dangerously close, putting the safety of all aircraft involved at risk. A video released by the US Air Force showed the Russian jets firing flares at one of the MQ-9s as it flew above the drone.
Furthermore, on the same day, two French Dassault Rafale fighters were carrying out a security mission near the Iraq-Syria border when they were forced to maneuver in order to avoid a non-professional interaction with a Russian Su-35 jet. The incident was confirmed by US Central Command, which stated that the US Air Force fully supports French security missions in the region.
Although the exact time of the encounter between the Russian Su-35 and the French aircraft is not known, there have been reports of aggressive actions by Russian pilots towards NATO aircraft since Wednesday morning. In one incident, three US Reaper drones were harassed by three Russian fighter jets while engaging in a mission against Islamic State targets. During this encounter, the Russian pilots dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the Reapers, and one pilot even positioned their aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and engaged the afterburner, hampering the operator’s ability to control the drone.
Lt. Gen. Grynkewich emphasized that these events are examples of unprofessional and unsafe actions by Russian air forces in Syria, posing a threat to both Coalition and Russian forces. He urged Russian forces to cease their reckless behavior and adhere to the expected standards of a professional air force so that the focus can be redirected towards defeating ISIS.
In recent months, US officials have repeatedly warned of dangerous actions by Russian pilots in the Middle East, particularly in Syria where the US has deployed troops to combat ISIS. As a show of force and deterrence against Russia, the US military deployed a squadron of F-22 Raptors to the region, with their main mission being to conduct operations against ISIS. The safety of personnel and the success of the mission against ISIS rely on the professional and responsible conduct of all forces operating in the region.
US Air Forces Central Command remains committed to ensuring the safety and security of its personnel and assets. They continue to work closely with partners and allies to address these incidents and prevent any escalation of tensions in the region.