Allahpundit and Ed already dove into the rather close call recently experienced by one of our ships when some Russian aircraft came calling and the, shall we say… less than sincere apology from Team Putin. The release of the video certainly caused quite a stir and the White House is responding in their usual fashion, which may result in a strongly worded letter if Putin isn’t careful.
The incidents are “entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
“There have been repeated incidents over the last year where the Russian military, including Russian military aircraft, have come close enough to each other or have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we continue to be concerned about this behavior,” Earnest said.
I’m not here to excuse the actions of the Russian pilots which was obviously provocative in nature, but we can also look at these incidents with a bit of historical perspective. It all has to do with an American military version of the old Brit saying, worse things happen at sea.
First, a quick story for you. From 1979 until early 1983 I spent the better part of my time floating around on an aircraft carrier during WESTPAC (Western Pacific) deployments. If you’re checking your calendars right now you’ll see that this was during the height of the cold war and the Russians (who we referred to as the Soviets back in the day) were looked upon with a rather jaundiced eye by western forces. People back home never really saw much of them of course, but if you were out in the far reaches of the open blue water past Hawaii and into the Indian Ocean, they were a regular fact of life.
During one cruise we were being followed – as usual – by a Russian “fishing boat.” The scare quotes are a requirement because that ship was bristling with more antennae than quills on a medium sized porcupine and they never did seem to find much time to do any actual fishing. As long as they stayed several miles away toward the horizon we generally ignored them and went about our business. It was obviously a spy ship, but we tracked all their vessels too and it was all in the game. But during one period they decided to get really up close and personal, moving in to within a half mile or so and tracking us off the rear starboard quarter. This went on for a little while until the Captain clearly grew tired of it.
The day was dark and overcast with an extremely low cloud ceiling. In a break from our normal flight schedule, the Air Boss launched five F-14s from one of our Tomcat squadrons which quickly climbed through the cloud ceiling and disappeared. A short time later three of them landed. The guys up top in the signal shack were watching the Russians through binoculars and I happened to be out there one deck below them outside of our air search radar shack. They reported that the Soviets were watching us closely.
Nobody seemed to notice that two of our fighters were still out there until one of them dropped in a flat fall out of the clouds pretty much right on top of the Russian ship. The pilots kicked in the afterburners and they gunned the jets low over the small ship producing a ton of flame and a lot of noise. The signalmen were laughing hysterically as they reported that the Soviet sailors were diving for the decks and down through open hatches. Back in the day this was known as “roasting them.” Our second F-14 followed a moment later doing the exact same thing. A short time later the Russians dropped back to a distance of about ten miles.
The point of this story is that what we’re seeing now is really nothing new. A lot happens at sea which the folks back home never generally hear about and back then it was all one big cat and mouse game. It was also incredibly dangerous, but it happened. Captains of carrier task forces at sea are nearly god-like in their power (though even they aren’t close to the captains of submarines who are absolute rulers) and these engagements happen all the time. It’s just that these days there are people with cell phones capturing everything that goes on and some of it gets released to the public.
As I said above, this is a just a bit of perspective to add to the story arc. It’s no excuse for the Russians to do it, but they hardly invented these tactics and we’ve been doing the same ourselves for decades.