U.S. and Russian warplanes operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea flew dangerously close to each other in three separate incidents last weekend, including one in which the aircraft came within about five feet of each other, Pentagon officials said on Wednesday.
The close calls, which occurred in international airspace on Friday and Saturday, involved three Russian Su-35 jet fighters that crossed into the flight path of three U.S. P-8A surveillance aircraft, the officials said.
The incidents, which were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has massed troops at Ukraine’s borders, demanding guarantees the country never join NATO, while President Biden has threatened sanctions should the Russians invade.
Defense Department officials said two of the midair encounters were deemed unsafe and the third unprofessional.
“We have made our concerns known to Russian officials through diplomatic channels,” Navy Capt. Mike Kafka, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.
“While no one was hurt, interactions such as these could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes.”
The Navy P-8A is a slow-flying maritime patrol aircraft, used mostly to conduct surveillance missions. By contrast, the Russian Su-35 is a jet fighter that flies roughly three times faster and is designed to launch offensive weapons.