The U.S. RC-135U Combat Sent electronic intelligence plane made by Boeing Co. (BA) was conducting a routine mission over the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan on April 23 when the Russian fighter flew within about 100 feet (30 meters) of its nose, Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.
The incident coincided with President Barack Obama’s arrival on a visit to Japan, during which he criticized Russia over its annexation of Crimea. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has joined other Group of Seven nations in applying sanctions against Russia, disrupting Abe’s effort to strengthen ties between the two countries and resolve a decades-old territorial dispute.
Asked why the Pentagon didn’t disclose the incident until it was reported yesterday by the Washington Free Beacon, spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren said, “I don’t have a good answer for you.” Warren said he wasn’t aware of any other close encounters since “this incident” between Russian and U.S. aircraft in the region.
Russian Air Force spokesman Igor Klimov said he couldn’t comment immediately when reached by phone yesterday.
Pentagon officials have expressed their concerns about the intercept to the Russian military, Kirby said.
Russia has stepped up military activity around Japan’s borders in recent months. Japan dispatched jets to intercept Russian aircraft close to its airspace 359 times in the year to March 31, up from 248 times the previous year. In April, a series of Russian military planes were spotted circling much of Japan’s coastline, and Japanese jets were dispatched in response.
“Thirty meters is very provocative,” said Tetsuo Kotani, senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. Chinese jets approached Japanese planes in two similar incidents in the East China Sea last month.
“The timing says this is a message regarding the U.S.- Japan summit meeting. Russia wants to keep a distance between the Japan and the U.S.,” Kotani added. “Russia often uses military pressure. This does not mean the Cold War is coming back.”
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org