A Russian fighter jet attempts to bomb an RAF reconnaissance plane out of the sky over the Black Sea, but the missile fails in an accident that US defense officials reveal is far more serious than first thought.
The blundering pilot mistakenly thought a radar operator on the ground had allowed him to shoot down the British plane in September last year.
On September 29, a Royal Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft was flying through international airspace near Russian-occupied Crimea when a squadron of Russian Su-27 fighters flew over it.
One of the Russian pilots shut down the British plane and let it explode – but the deadly missile failed to launch properly and failed in an action that could have drawn Britain and NATO into direct conflict with Vladimir Putin’s forces.
At the time, Britain’s Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, acknowledged the incident, telling Parliament that the Russian planes had “recklessly” come within 15 feet of an RAF plane, and that one had “fired a missile in the vicinity”.
But two US defense officials commented on classified intelligence documents that were leaked online he told the New York Times Today that accident was much more serious than first thought.
A Russian Su-27 shadowing an RAF RC-135 spy plane over the Black Sea in September came close to shooting down the British plane but its missile malfunctioned.
The Russian mistakenly believed that the radar operator on the ground allowed him to fire on the RAF
Earlier this week, a British defense source questioned the version of events, telling MailOnline: ‘These reports contain inaccurate information and do not reflect what happened in international airspace over the Black Sea’, referring to Defense Secretary Wallace’s comments to Parliament.
Had a Russian missile launched the Rivet Joint missile out of the sky over the Black Sea, the UK and its NATO allies might have been forced into war.
According to Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, member states agree that an armed attack against one or more of them “shall be regarded as an attack against all of them.”
In the event of such an attack, each NATO member would assist the attacked country with whatever action it “deems necessary”.
The RAF regularly organizes sorties over the international waters of the Black Sea, as well as the Baltic Sea and eastern Poland, to gather intelligence.
The role of the Rivet Joint aircraft is to augment electronic transmissions and communications – the aircraft is also known as a “nuke-sniffer” for its ability to detect radioactivity.
Details have emerged in a cache of highly leaked classified documents showing British and US military activities since the invasion of Ukraine.
The source of the deeply embarrassing leak remained a mystery yesterday, as US intelligence chiefs launched a criminal investigation to find out who was responsible.
Although limited in scope, the release of such highly rated documents is the most disturbing incident of its kind since the 2013 WikiLeaks scandal when 700,000 documents, videos and audio files were leaked.
Dozens of highly sensitive documents have been egregiously photographed and shared online. Yesterday, British defense officials had a dialogue with their American counterparts as the leaks included incidents involving British forces.
The documents also cover the conflict in Ukraine, including discussions about the death toll on both sides and remaining ammunition stocks — a sensitive issue ahead of much anticipated crime in the spring by Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Although the papers have not been independently verified, most intelligence sources consider them authentic – even though they contain inaccurate information.
The documents include an account of an incident last year when a British intelligence-gathering plane was harassed by two Russian fighter jets over the Black Sea.
At the time, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament that a malfunction had caused a Russian plane to launch a missile “near” the British Rivet Joint.
The documents paint a bleaker picture of the incident in September 2022, suggesting that the Russian missile nearly hit the RAF plane. The intelligence paper describes a “near-downing of a Royal Air Force aircraft from the United Kingdom”.
A Royal Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint spy plane was flying over international waters near Crimea at the time of the incident in September.
In the aftermath of the leak, British defense sources insisted that Wallace’s account was accurate and that the safety of the aircraft and its crew had not been compromised.
The UK’s anti-China policy is also discussed in the documents, which are remarkably broad in the scope of their topics.
The Kremlin has refused to accept responsibility for the leak. A spokesman for Vladimir Putin noted that there was a general tendency to blame Russia for everything in such circumstances.
British intelligence expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon also had an open mind. He said: ‘The loss of these documents is deeply embarrassing to the Pentagon more than anything else and should not negatively affect any Ukrainian combat plans.
This could cause confusion among Russian military planners who will wonder if it was a real ruse or just another clever ploy of war. It may even be manufactured by the Russian government to cause discord between the allies and Ukraine. One must be open minded. I won’t take them at face value.
Some of the documents have been on the Internet for months, although it was only in recent days that their presence on obscure Internet servers drew attention.
The leak was so alarming that the US Department of Defense referred it to the Department of Justice, which opened a criminal investigation. An early assessment indicated that the papers would have been available to thousands of defense and intelligence officials – and it appears that one or more of them posted them online.
Since the leak first came to light in March, investigators have been pursuing theories that range from someone simply sharing documents to show the work they were doing to someone within the intelligence community or the US military.
Daniel Hoffman, a former undercover CIA officer, said that given the past activities of Russian intelligence agencies, it is highly likely that Russian agents will release documents relating to Ukraine as part of a Russian disinformation operation.
He said such operations – aimed at sowing confusion and discord among Russia’s adversaries – were a “classic” practice for Russian spy services to leak original documents in which they inserted false information. He said the aim was to drive a wedge between Ukraine and the United States, Kiev’s largest provider of military support.
Some national security experts and US officials say they suspect the leaker to be a US citizen. The White House has refused to publicly discuss who might be responsible for the breach.