A Russian pilot fired two missiles at a British Royal Air Force (RAF) surveillance plane. He reportedly misinterpreted an order and thought he had permission to shoot.
The incident occurred in September 2022. Russia blamed a “technical failure” and the British Ministry of Defense publicly accepted its explanation.
However, intercepted communications reveal that one of the Russian pilots believed he had been given permission to target the plane after receiving an ambiguous order from a Russian ground station.
The first missile missed the RAF aircraft. The second, however, failed to launch successfully. Had it achieved its objective, it could have drawn a NATO member into a military confrontation with Russia.
The RAF aircraft was carrying a crew of approximately 30 when it encountered the two Russian SU-27 fighters. The British plane was carrying out a surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace on September 29.
Three Western defense sources with knowledge of the incident have told the BBC that the two Russian pilots received orders such as “you have the objective.”
As a result, one of the pilots launched an air-to-air missile, but it missed its target. A dispute then arose between the two Russian pilots, as the second did not believe that he had been given permission to fire.
However, a second missile was released but simply fell off the wing, suggesting either an aborted launch or that there was a malfunction of the weapon.
Since the British plane had sensors to intercept communications, the British crew could hear the incident, which could have ended their lives.
After the Russian Ministry of Defense described the incident as a “technical failure,” the British government confirmed that the incident had taken place.
In a statement to MPs on October 20, former Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described it as a “potentially dangerous confrontation”.
However, he added: “We do not consider this incident to constitute a deliberate provocation by the Russians, and our analyzes agree that it was due to a technical failure.”
However, a leaked report by US airman Jack Teixera (later published online) revealed that the US military is referring to the incident as a “near shoot down”.
“The incident was much more serious than initially reported and could have constituted an act of war,” reported the New York Times.
The British Ministry of Defense has now told the BBC that “this incident is a stark warning of the possible consequences of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine.”
Since the incident, RAF surveillance flight missions have been escorted by Typhoon fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles.
Translation of Anna McDonnell