Return to an incident above the Black Sea: a Russian missile misses its target…

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Black Sea incident, Russian missile towards a British plane: revelation on a diplomatic crisis averted

A diplomatic crisis narrowly avoided

September 2022 was the scene of a particularly worrying event which could have triggered a major crisis. At that time, a Russian Su-27 fighter pilot fired a missile near a British RC-135W Rivet Joint surveillance plane flying over the Black Sea. Initially, this action was described by Russia as a “technical failure”, an explanation which the British Ministry of Defense also publicly accepted. However, recent reports suggest that this incident could have had much more serious consequences.

The BBC, citing three senior Western defense sources familiar with the incident, revealed that not only had one missile been fired, but a second missile had also been launched in an attempt to shoot down the surveillance aircraft. . These allegations, if proven, show how catastrophic this event could have been, transforming a simple “miss” into a major tragedy.

Detailed incident timeline

On September 29, the British RC-135 and Russian Su-27s clashed over the Black Sea. Ben Wallace, then UK Defense Secretary, provided initial details of this event, revealing that the unarmed RC-135 had been “intercepted” by two Russian Su-27s. The latter had followed the surveillance plane for almost 90 minutes. One of the Russian fighters then “launched a missile near the RC-135”, well beyond visual range.

Although calling this event a “potentially dangerous engagement”, Wallace had not considered it a “deliberate escalation”. He said the launch of the missile was due to a “failure”, thus corroborating the explanations provided by Russian officials.

Pentagon revelations

However, in April of the following year, a series of classified Pentagon documents were leaked. These documents suggested that the Su-27 pilot may have misinterpreted an order from a ground intercept control operator, and therefore deliberately fired an air-to-air missile at the spy plane. Although this erroneous order was acknowledged, it was also confirmed that the weapon had suffered a technical failure.

These Pentagon revelations have raised questions about their reliability. The British Ministry of Defense quickly questioned the authenticity of these documents, warning of a high level of inaccuracy. Despite these reservations, two American defense officials, who remained anonymous, confirmed to The New York Times the veracity of the incident.

The other scenario

If the information provided by the “three senior Western defense sources” to the BBC is correct, the overall picture of this incident becomes clearer. According to these sources, a communication intercepted by the RC-135 shows that one of the Russian pilots believed they had received permission to engage the RC-135. One of the sources revealed that the pilot received ambiguous instructions such as “you have the target”, which may have led to misinterpretation and a deliberate missile launch.

When the first pilot realized the seriousness of his error, a heated debate began with his wingman. This first missile was “successfully launched but failed to lock on its target,” according to the BBC. Following this, a second missile was fired towards the RC-135, but it simply fell off the plane’s wing, without being launched.

This incident is just one in a series of aerial confrontations between NATO and Russian aircraft over the Black Sea.

John Walker Avatar