The Seven Most Dangerous Su-27s in the World
Russia’s jet fighters in Kaliningrad harass NATO and Swedish planes
On Oct. 3, a Swedish air force Gulfstream spy plane took off from Linkoping air base in southern Sweden and flew roughly southeast over the Baltic Sea in order to monitor Russian naval maneuvers in international waters.
The Gulfstream soon had company—one of seven Russian air force Su-27 Flanker jet fighters that fly from Kaliningrad, Moscow’s Baltic enclave, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland and geographically separate from the rest of Russia.
The Kaliningrad Flankers are arguably the busiest—and most dangerous—Su-27s anywhere in the world.
They patrol over the Baltic, intercept NATO and Swedish spy planes in international air space and, on occasion, harass the rival planes so aggressively that they have no choice but to flee.
If any Russian planes end up causing an international incident in the tense Baltic region, it will likely be the Kaliningrad Su-27s.
Over the Baltic on Oct. 3, an Su-27 with the numeral 24 on its nose in red paint flew so close to the Swedish Gulfstream—around 10 meters, according to Combat Aircraft’s Babak Taghvaee—that the Swedish crew could clearly identify the Russian jet’s weapons, including four R-27 and two R-73 air-to-air missiles.
While for many decades opposing air arms have routinely intercepted each other’s planes in international air space, NATO and Swedish authorities have grown increasingly concerned over Moscow’s actions in the Baltic region.
As Russian troops continue to back armed separatists in Ukraine, Moscow’s warplanes have violated Sweden’s territory dozens of times in 2014. This year NATO’s fighters have intercepted Russian planes on no fewer than 100 separate occasions.
“We have seen examples of the actions of air power that can be perceived as more aggressive than what we’ve seen in a long time,” army general Sverker Goranson, Sweden’s top officer, told a Swedish news outlet.
The October intercept was hardly the only—or the worst—incident. During a similar incident in July, an Su-27 again flew within 10 meters of a Swedish Gulfstream. The Kaliningrad Su-27s have also tangled with Swedish Gripen fighters and French Mirage jets. And in April, July and October, the Flankers intercepted U.S. Air Force RC-135 spy planes flying near Kaliningrad.
On July 18, an RC-135 was presumably monitoring electronic signals from the Russian enclave when at least two of the resident Su-27s—which according to Taghvaee include three Su-27SM3s, one Su-27P and an Su-27S, among others—vectored for an intercept.
Something about the Flankers’ behavior frightened the American aircrew. The RC-135 turned and ran—straight into Swedish territory. “The U.S. aircraft was directed towards Swedish air space incorrectly by U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon’s European Command said in a statement.
Five months later in September, the Kaliningrad Flankers—which the Russian air force detached from the 6972nd Aviation Base in Krasnador, just north of the Black Sea—took part in a massive exercise that tested the Kremlin’s ability to reinforce Kaliningrad with scores of extra warplanes and hundreds of paratroopers.
NATO jets monitored similar movements of Russian planes to Kaliningrad twice in late October. Each aerial convoy included at least one Su-27.
Russian Flankers have also escorted heavy bombers conducting mock attack runs on European countries—although it’s not entirely clear that those Su-27s came from Kaliningrad.