Russian fighters "buzzing" our ships (and vice versa) is nothing new

Allahpundit wrote last night about how the Russians are “testing Trump” with missile deployments and fighter jets buzzing our ships. The missile deployment question is a serious one to be sure and I think we’ve covered it fairly well. When it comes to the issue of Russian fighters and close calls with U.S. Navy vessels, this is a subject which seems to fascinate the media endlessly. Such things were taking place during the Obama administration as well but looking at some of the recent news reports one might suspect that this is some sort of new phenomena. The Washington Post in particular seems to be fixating on it.

Multiple Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. destroyer patrolling in the Black Sea last week, in an incident the captain of the American ship called “unsafe,” the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The three flybys occurred on Feb. 10 and were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

Lt. Col. David Faggard, a U.S. European Command spokesman, said the USS Porter, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was returning from an exercise off the coast of Romania when an Il-38 sub-hunting twin-engine aircraft approached at a high speed and low altitude. The Il-38 was followed by two Su-24 fighter-bomber jets and then a single Su-24.

Faggard said the aircraft did not respond to radio calls and that they did not have their identification transponders turned on. He could not confirm whether the jets were armed and would not specify the altitude of the aircraft.

I suppose from a civilian perspective the idea of fighter jets zooming by in close proximity to our warships sounds alarming. And that’s not to say that we don’t take the situation seriously, but it’s also worth remembering that this is a game which is nearly as old as the invention of both sailing ships and aircraft. The inclusion of the detail that Russia’s pilots allegedly turned off their TACAN system is a new wrinkle which steps up the game a couple of notches. Tactical air navigation (as it’s properly called) and the respective vessel’s IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems are as critical for keeping the peace as they are for effectively conducting the business of war. Shutting down the systems leaves a blank space in the data available to the ship’s commander when making critical decisions regarding potential engagement.

Still, it’s important to remember that the “games” which take place between naval commanders and fighter pilots at sea are actually relatively routine for experienced military personnel even if they sound like something out of the plot of a Tom Clancy novel. I believe I’ve dredged some of these stories up in the past, but I always enjoy a walk down memory lane. I spent the better part of three years on an aircraft carrier which was routinely deployed in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, including the period which came to be known as the Iran hostage crisis. While we were out there circling endlessly on the ocean we were frequently “accompanied” by the Russians. They had dubious looking “fishing vessels” with suspicious collections of antenna and other high-tech gear following us on a regular basis. Our planes would regularly buzz them and they would do the same to us.

On one occasion when the aforementioned fishing vessel got a bit too close for comfort we launched five of the ready Tomcats on a day with a very low cloud ceiling and noted the Russians observing the flight ops as they always did. Only a few minutes later three of the F-14 fighters returned and landed on our vessel. Then, with no warning, the remaining two suddenly dropped out of the cloud cover right on top of the Russian vessel at an altitude I guessed was no more than 150 feet, gunned their afterburners and shot away at high velocity. Russian sailors were diving for the deck in a hilarious fashion and everyone had a good laugh about it. (Well, perhaps not the Russians.) After that the vessel backed off to a more respectful distance.

Stories such as that may sound alarming and if the mainstream media heard of one today it would probably be described as an “act of war.” In reality, those are just the games that have always gone on. Ship’s captains at sea have tremendous discretion in their actions (though not quite as much as those who command submarines) and warriors are aggressive by nature. It is, as I said, all just part of the game.

I’m not trying to discount the serious nature of our current relations with the Russians, but rather simply calling for a bit of judgment and restraint. It’s a situation which the White House will no doubt have to keep an eye on but it’s hardly the brink of the eve of destruction.