A report has claimed that a Russian pilot had tried to shoot down a British spy plane over the Black Sea last year, firing missiles at the Royal Air Force aircraft in an incident previously confirmed by Moscow to be caused by a “technical malfunction.”
The BBC reported on Thursday that the pilot of one of two Russian Su-27 fighter jets that approached the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft on September 29, 2022, fired missiles at the spy plane after believing he had received permission.
Three senior Western defense sources familiar with the incident told the BBC that Russian communications intercepted by the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft, which has sensors to intercept communications, showed that one of the pilots misinterpreted an ambiguous command from a Russian ground station.
According to the report, the first missile missed the aircraft, while the second one simply fell from the wing, suggesting the weapon either malfunctioned or that the launch was aborted.
The intercepted communication also showed that the second Russian pilot did not fire any missiles and tried to get his comrade to stop.
Back then, Russia said the incident was caused by a "technical malfunction", and the UK's Ministry of Defense downplayed the incident.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told lawmakers in October that a Russian jet had “released a missile in the vicinity of’’ a British plane and that he had demanded an explanation from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
He added that Moscow had answered that “it was a technical malfunction of the Su-27 fighter.”
“We do not consider this incident to constitute a deliberate escalation on the part of the Russians, and our analysis concurs that it was due to a malfunction,” Wallace said.
Asked about Thursday’s report, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wallace had “informed the House of Commons within three weeks of the event occurring, in the interest of transparency and safety.”
“Our intent has always been to protect the safety of our operations, avoid unnecessary escalation, and inform the public and international community,” the ministry said.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Max Blain, said the premier was confident Wallace hadn’t misled lawmakers with his statement.
Blain further said that “obviously there are limitations on some of the operational detail that can be put into the public domain” for security reasons.
Despite the near shootdown, RAF has continued to conduct surveillance flights over the Black Sea, while being escorted by Typhoon fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles.
Russia began its special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Moscow said the operation was aimed at defending Ukraine’s pro-Russia population in Donetsk and Luhansk, eastern Ukrainian regions, against persecution by Kiev.
Moscow has frequently warned that a continued supply of Western arms and military equipment for the Ukrainian military would only prolong the war.