Electronic intelligence flights in international airspace close to Russia have led to a series of incidents. Sérgio Santana looks at the heightened tensions and the Russian response to Western operations.
Shortly before 6am on September 29, 2022, a Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint, ZZ664 and callsign ‘RRR7215’, operated by the Royal Air Force’s 51 Squadron took off from its base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, for yet another electronic intelligence (ELINT) mission that would take it on an overflight of international airspace over the Black Sea. The mission was just one of many that had taken place following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seven months earlier.
At 1358hrs, while flying at 35,000ft, ‘RRR7215’ was detected by radar at Belbek Air Base in Sevastopol, Crimea, home to the 38th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Russian Aerospace Force (RuAF). The Russian 4th Air Army ordered a pair of Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters to intercept the Rivet Joint.