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Meet Russia’s Su-27 Provocateurs In Kaliningrad

Want to start an international incident, as Russia often does?  Fly too close to another country’s airplane.  

There is close and then there is danger close, which is viewed as dangerous, provocative, and deliberate.  

Russia’s Su-27 fighters that are stationed in Kaliningrad are based right on the Baltic Sea, so they are most likely to intercept NATO aircraft flying in international airspace above those waters. 

These Russian fighters, however, do not merely intercept NATO aircraft, they often fly dangerously close, where one minor error could immediately result in a catastrophic disaster and an international incident.  

If there was an equal and opposite reaction to a show of force it would be a “force of show”, where aircraft forcibly fly dangerously close to other planes.  Russian Su-27s deliberately fly within 30 feet of NATO aircraft,  increasing tension not only for the crews of both aircraft but also increasing tension for multiple NATO countries. For Russia, where pilots and soldiers are expendable, this is a calculated risk and the loss of a pilot would probably be viewed as a price to pay for keeping ‘NATO honest’ and aware that Russia still is a ‘major player’. 

Russia is not capable of non-nuclear strategic military actions, so they are forced to use tactical assets in what they perceive as a strategic “force of show”.  These actions are not appreciated by the West. They are bothersome and viewed as juvenile – that of a spoiled adolescent.

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April 23, 2019

Topic: Security  Region: Europe  Tags: Su-27RussiaRussian Air ForceU.S. Air ForceNATO

NATO Just Can’t Stand Russia’s Su-27 Fighter (Here’s Why)

Lots of reasons.

by War Is Boring

The Kaliningrad Flankers are arguably the busiest—and most dangerous—Su-27s anywhere in the world.

On June 9, 2017, examples of all three of the U.S. Air Force’s heavy bombers — the swing-wing B-1, the stealthy B-2 and the lumbering B-52 — gathered in international air space over the Baltic Sea for a rare photo-op with allied fighters and patrol planes.

They had a surprise visitor. A Russian air force Su-27 Flanker fighter sidled up to the U.S.-led formation and flew alongside long enough to appear in multiple photos. A few days prior, an Su-27 intercepted a B-52 over the Baltic.

(This article by David Axe originally appeared at War is Boring in 2017.)

The Su-27 was apparently one of seven Flankers that fly from Kaliningrad, Moscow’s Baltic enclave, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland and geographically separate from the rest of Russia.

The Kaliningrad Flankers are arguably the busiest—and most dangerous—Su-27s anywhere in the world.

They patrol over the Baltic, intercept NATO and neutral spy planes in international air space and, on occasion, harass the rival planes so aggressively that they have no choice but to flee.

If any Russian warplanes end up causing an international incident in the tense Baltic region, it will likely be the Kaliningrad Su-27s.

Over the Baltic on Oct. 3, 2014, an Su-27 with the numeral 24 on its nose in red paint flew so close to a Swedish air force Gulfstream spy plane—around 30 feet, according to Combat Aircraft’s Babak Taghvaee—that the Swedish crew could clearly identify the Russian jet’s weapons, including four R-27 and two R-73 air-to-air missiles.

In June 2017, Russia’s defense minister Sergey Shoigu was flying to Kaliningrad when a Polish F-16 intercepted the minister’s transport plane. A pair of Su-27s — likely from the enclave — intervened.

A few days later, an apparent Kaliningrad Su-27 with the nose code Red 93 flew so closeto a U.S. Air Force RC-135 spy plane that the Pentagon formally complained.

While for many decades opposing air arms have routinely intercepted each other’s planes in international air space, NATO and Swedish authorities have grown increasingly concerned over Moscow’s actions in the Baltic region.

Russian aerial activity in the Baltic region has been on the rise for years — and escalated sharply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2014. Fighters from NATO and neutral countries have intercepted Russian planes on hundreds of separate occasions since then.

“We have seen examples of the actions of air power that can be perceived as more aggressive than what we’ve seen in a long time,” army general Sverker Goranson, then Sweden’s top officer, told a Swedish news outletin 2014.

In June 2014, Kaliningrad Su-27s again flew within 30 feet of a Swedish spy plane. The Su-27s have also tangled with Swedish Gripen fighters and French Mirage jets. The Flankers have repeatedly intercepted, and occasionally endangered, American RC-135s.

In July 2014, an RC-135 was presumably monitoring electronic signals from the Russian enclave when at least two of the resident Su-27s—which as of 2014 included three Su-27SM3s, one Su-27P and an Su-27S, among others—vectored for an intercept.

Something about the Flankers’ behavior frightened the American aircrew. The RC-135 turned and ran—straight into Swedish territory. “The U.S. aircraft was directed towards Swedish air space incorrectly by U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon’s European Command said in a statement.

Five months later in September 2014, the Kaliningrad Flankers—which the Russian air force detached from the 6972nd Aviation Base in Krasnador, just north of the Black Sea—took part in a massive exercise that tested the Kremlin’s ability to reinforce Kaliningrad with scores of extra warplanes and hundreds of paratroopers.

War games have become commonplace off Kaliningrad. In July 2017, Russian and Chinese warships conducted mock naval combat off Kaliningrad. And Russia staged parts of its sprawling Zapad exercise in Kaliningrad in September 2017.

Russian Flankers have also escorted heavy bombers conducting mock attack runs on European countries—although it’s not entirely clear that those Su-27s came from Kaliningrad.


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