WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has had to divert an aircraft over Syria to ensure it could maintain a safe flying distance from a Russian fighter aircraft in the same area, according to Captain Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman.
It was the first time the U.S. needed to do so since Russia began military operations in Syria at the end of last month.
Since the Russians began operating in Syrian airspace, U.S. pilots have been under orders to change their flight path if there is a Russian plane within 20 nautical miles, a senior defense official told CNN.
Davis said the incident happened in the last few days but offered few additional details.
“We are taking action to ensure” the planes don’t come too close to each other, he said, indicating there has only been one incident so far. There is no sign the two aircraft communicated with each other.
In the recent incident, the Russian plane came within that specified 20 nautical mile interval. The new U.S. rules were instituted specifically because there is no agreement with the Russians yet on maintaining mutual flight safety rules and practices. In fact, the incident happened in the days after the first round of technical talks with Russia on that issue. Without that agreement, the official said, U.S. pilots cannot count on the Russians to fly under standard safety procedures.
The U.S. aircraft that diverted was a manned aircraft. It was not able to complete its mission, the official said. The official emphasized the reason for the new rules is concern about keeping American pilots safe, given the long history of aggressive Russian military intercepts against U.S. aircraft.