Unarmed Russian fighter jets made two extremely close overflights this week of the USS Donald Cook, sailing in the Baltic Sea, CNN has learned.
Navy officials are not commenting publicly, but inside the Pentagon there is an intense discussion about releasing video and still photos of the Russian encounter to demonstrate the danger the jets posed to the ship, a U.S. official told CNN.
The initial reports indicate the two concerning encounters occurred Tuesday night in international waters. A third overflight, at a more acceptable distance, happened Sunday, according to the source.
The ship, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, also had a Polish helicopter on board as part of routine training, according to the official, leading to some speculation in military circles that the Russians were also “sending a message to Poland,” the official said.
A U.S. official described the Russian maneuver as “strafing runs” without firing any weapons. The unarmed Russian aircraft swooped in over the deck in the same flight profile that would have been used if an attack was underway.
A second U.S. defense official told CNN that the overflights were conducted by a Russian SU-24 and helicopter. Flight operations by the Polish helicopter were interrupted because one of the overflight was so close.
The Cook had been shadowed by a Russian intelligence-gathering ship for some time before the aircraft encounter. The U.S. crew had radioed the Russian ship that it was conducting routine operations, according to the official.
There are often encounters between U.S. ships and aircraft and their Russian counterparts, but as long as they are conducted safely, there is minimal concern. This time, however, there were incidents that led the U.S. crew to conclude that the incidents were unsafe.
It could not immediately be learned how close the unarmed Russian fighters flew to the ship and at what altitude.