Russia covered up a pilot’s attempt to shoot down a NATO aircraft near Ukraine, blaming it on a malfunction, report says

Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters fly in formation during an international air show in Moscow, Russia.

Dima Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images

Last year, a Russian jet released a missile near a British Royal Air Force reconnaissance aircraft.
At the time, Russia claimed it was a “technical malfunction” — an explanation accepted by the UK.
But a new BBC report found that the pilot actually tried to shoot down the NATO aircraft but failed.

Russia covered up a fighter jet pilot’s attempt to shoot down a NATO aircraft near Ukraine last year, blaming it on a malfunction, the BBC reported on Thursday.

The pilot of a Russian SU-27 fighter jet fired two missiles at a British RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft on September 29 last year.

At the time, Russia claimed it was a “technical malfunction” — an explanation accepted by British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. 

But three senior Western defense sources with knowledge of the incident told the BBC that new intercepted communications reveal that the pilot believed that he had permission to fire at the RAF, but that he missed.

One missile did not hit the target, while another either malfunctioned or was aborted the moment after it left the wing of the aircraft, the sources said. 

The RAF plane, which had a crew of up to 30 people, was flying a surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace when it came into contact with two Russian SU-27 fighter jets. 

At the time, the Russian pilots received an apparent command from their ground station controller, who according to one Western source, told them loosely: “You have the target,” the BBC reported.

One of the pilots thought it was a command to fire so released an air-to-air missile, which successfully launched but failed to lock on to its target, the BBC reported. 

According to radio communications picked up by the RAF surveillance plane, the other pilot of the Su-27 swore at his colleague and asked him what he thought he was doing. 

But this didn’t stop the first pilot from releasing another missile, though this one either malfunctioned or was aborted, the sources said. 

The Ministry of Defence told the BBC that the incident is “a stark reminder of the potential consequences of [Vladimir] Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine,” but did not reveal the exact communications between the pilots. 

At the time of the incident, a US official told The New York Times that the near-miss was “really, really scary.”

It highlights the lack of professionalism of Russia’s air force, the newspaper reported.

Since the incident, RAF flights have been escorted by Typhoon fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles.

A spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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