Russian fighter jets overflew a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea more than 30 times earlier this week, with one pass at 30 feet from the ship causing a wake in the waters nearby, a U.S. Defense Department official said today.
The fighters ignored repeated communications from the American ship, and the ship's captain has labeled the Russian overflights as "unsafe and unprofessional," the official said.
On Monday and Tuesday, pairs of Russian SU-24 fighters overflew the destroyer USS Donald Cook at close range while it was in international waters in the Baltic Sea, 70 nautical miles off of Kaliningrad, Russia, a U.S. Defense official confirmed.
On Monday, the destroyer was conducting flight operations with a Polish military helicopter that was conducting landing operations on the ship, the official said.
A pair of unarmed Russian SU-24’s then “conducted a series of low passes over the ships, came within 1,000 yards and within 100 feet of altitude," the official said, noting that the aircraft eventually conducted twenty passes over the destroyer.
As a result of the ongoing Russian overflights, the training operations with the Polish helicopter were suspended and the helicopter was kept on deck, the officials said.
On Tuesday, a Russian KA-27 “Helix” helicopter circled the destroyer seven times taking photos of the ship, the officials said.
After several minutes, a pair of SU-24’s began the first of eleven passes over the ship that the Defense official characterized as "much more aggressive."
"These were very low simulated attack profiles, came within 30 feet of the ship, under 100 feet in altitude," said the official, noting that "the reports were that it was creating wake in the water it was so close.”
On Tuesday, one pass by the Russian fighters flew 30 feet off the destroyer, creating a wake by the ship as it flew at an altitude of less than 100 feet, the official said. That pass occurred as the Russian fighters carried out 11 simulated low attack runs over the destroyer.
The Russian fighters did not respond to multiple radio communications from the American ship to "query them while they were still many miles away," the official said, noting that the commander of the USS Donald Cook called the Russian moves “unsafe and unprofessional."
A further assessment is under way that could lead to a complaint filed by the Pentagon with the Russians, according to the official.
The American destroyer was operating alone at the time of the incidents, though there two Russian ships in the area, a frigate and an auxiliary intelligence gathering ship shadowing the destroyer, according to the official. It had left a port of call in Gdynia, Poland, to conduct the training exercise with the Polish helicopter.
The crew aboard the destroyer took photos and video of the incident.
Russian overflights of U.S. Navy ships have occurred in international waters in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, though the incidents this week appear to be the closest overflights yet. That includes the USS Donald Cook that was overflown by Russian fighters more than a dozen times in April 2014 while it was in international waters in the Black Sea.
The official said it is believed that the Russian aircraft flew from Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic that is a key Russian military area.