A pair of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors intercepted and fired warning flares at two Russian Su-25 jets on Wednesday, after the Russian jets flew east of the de-confliction line that separates Russian- and U.S.-led coalition operating space over Syria, defense officials told CNN.
The F-22s fired warning flares after the Russian aircraft crossed over the de-confliction line on multiple occasions.
The U.S. used a pre-established de-confliction hotline to diffuse the aircraft intercept.
The Russian Su-25s “were promptly intercepted by two F-22A Raptors providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations to defeat ISIS,” Air Force Central Command Spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told CNN.
“The F-22s conducted multiple maneuvers to persuade the Su-25s to depart our de-conflicted airspace, including the release of chaff and flares in close proximity to the Russian aircraft and placing multiple calls on the emergency channel to convey to the Russian pilots that they needed to depart the area,” he continued.
Pickart said that a Russian jet flew so close to a U.S. aircraft that there was almost a midair collision.
“One Su-25 flew close enough to an F-22A that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision,” he told CNN, adding that “during the incident, a Russian Su-35 also flew across the river and was shadowed closely by one of the F-22As.”
Pickart said that on numerous occasions, Russia has violated the agreement on the de-confliction line.
“In early November, we verbally agreed through de-confliction channels that the Russians would remain west of the Euphrates River, and the coalition would operate to the east. Since agreeing to this de-confliction arrangement, the Russians have flown into our airspace on the east side of the river 6 to 8 times per day, or approximately 10 percent of the Russian and Syrian flights,” Pickart told CNN.
“If either of us needs to cross the river for any reason, we’re supposed to first de-conflict via the line. It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are just honest mistakes,” he added. “The coalition’s greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.”
Sputnik News reported that the Russian Defense Ministry released a statement denying that Russian Su-25s were intercepted by U.S. F-22 Raptors, and that the F-22s instead “attempted to interfere in a Russian aircraft mission to provide air cover for a humanitarian aid convoy.”
“On December 13, a pair of Su-25 attack aircraft escorted a humanitarian convoy near Mayadin [the western bank of the Euphrates River] at an altitude of 3,300 meters. They were approached by a US F-22 fighter jet on the east side of the river. By firing off decoy flares, the F-22 interfered with the flight of a pair of Russian Su-25s,” the ministry’s statement read, according to Sputnik News, adding”A Russian Su-35 fighter jet, performing an air cover mission at an altitude of 10,000 meters, swiftly approached the F-22 from the rear, forcing the American aircraft to leave the area.”