Russian jets playing chicken with US planes over Syria, officials say
Air Forces Central Command reports head-on passes; denies Russian state-run media reports U.S. is doing it, too.
Russia’s fighter jets are making dangerous head-on passes of U.S. jets over Syria, a U.S. spokesperson said, even as Russian media outlets are accusing the United States of doing the same.
Russian fighters have approached U.S. and coalition forces’ aircraft multiple times over Syria in August, “including several high-speed, opposite-direction, close-aboard passes intended to force a reaction from our aircraft,” said Col. Mike Andrews of the U.S. Air Force Central Command.
Several of these passes brought the Russian aircraft to “well inside 1,000 feet” from U.S. jets, Andrews said.
By U.S.-Russian agreement, the planes are supposed to remain at least “several miles apart,” AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich said in April.
Russian state media outlets, meanwhile, are accusing U.S. aircraft of doing the same. On Aug. 19, TASS said U.S. F-35s had flown dangerously close to Russian jets.
Andrews denied that such an event occurred.
“There has not been one incident where U.S. aircraft approached Russian aircraft and engaged in escalatory, dangerous, or unsafe behavior,” he said.
The U.S. has accused Russia of provocative behavior over Syria almost from the start of Russia’s operations in the country. These activities, which have also included harassment of U.S. forces on the ground, have increased since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, an AFCENT spokesperson told Defense One in June, noting that their command had seen an increase in unprofessional intercepts that month.
“While the unprofessional and unsafe behavior varies from day to day and pilot to pilot, compared to behavior a year ago, Russian pilots have become significantly more unprofessional and unsafe,” the spokesperson said in June. “Russian military leadership in Syria had been willing to comply with agreed-upon deconfliction protocols.”
In April, Grynkewich said that Russian jets were “aggressively maneuvering, almost like they're trying to dogfight.”