Today a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber buzzed the USS Donald Cook, in a simulated attack run. The flyover took place in the Baltic Sea with the plane coming within a few hundred feet of the destroyer.
Buzzing a ship is dangerous not only because it creates a chance for a collision but also because it creates a chance for miscalculation and escalation. Arleigh Burke destroyers are armed with advanced radars and weapon systems like the Phalanx CIWS and SM-3s that are designed to handle threats like the Su-24. If the commanding officer had mistaken this stunt for an active threat he could have easily shoot the plane down and started a crisis.
Russia has a history of preforming maneuvers against U.S planes and ships. In 2014 n the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. Russian warplanes buzzed a U.S spy plane and the Donald Cook (ironically) over the Black Sea. The message they are sending is clear; “stay away from our interests or else”.
In 2016 the Russian’s are giving the same signals. The U.S military is planning to increase it’s presence in the Baltics and they are not happy. This was flyover was clearly meant as a threat to show their presence in the Baltics and reiterate the message they sent two years ago. They are meant to prove a point and demonstrate Russia’s commitment to maintaining it’s sphere of influence.
As dangerous as this conduct is, staying calm is the best thing the U.S can do to avoid escalating these incidents into a full blown crisis. The worst thing that the U.S could do in response to this provocation is to overreact. Putin is not irrational. He will not start a third world war to prove a point. He demonstrated this very clearly after the Turks shot another Su-24 down over Syria.
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