Last Saturday a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon plane was intercepted by a Russian Su-30 fighter over the Black Sea in what the U.S. military is calling an unsafe incident. Reportedly, the Russian fighter flew laterally in front of the American plane so as to force it to fly through the wash of its afterburners, causing the American to encounter “a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence.” This is one of many encounters between Russian and American military aircraft over the last few years.
Historically, Russia tends to view the Black Sea as its domain, a self-perception only heightened after its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol in Crimea, with bases in various other cities in the region. The fleet contains surface ships, diesel-powered submarines, landing ships, antisubmarine ships, minesweepers, and guided missile corvettes.
However, given that Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania - all NATO members - also share a coastline with the Black Sea, it is not unusual for U.S. and NATO forces to be operating in the region as well. This creates a natural point of tension between Russian and NATO forces. In fact, the U.S. P-8A Poseidon is capable of monitoring surface and submarine activity and was likely doing so at the time of the interception by the Russian jet. The plane is equipped with numerous sensors, one of which can detect vapors from diesel-powered ships, such as the ones which Russia operates in the Sea.
This latest encounter between U.S. and Russian aircraft will most certainly not be the last as both countries seek to project power throughout the world and challenge each other for control of air and seaspace.