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Russian and Western air power ‘clashes' over Middle East

A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter caught in the cross-hairs of a French Rafale over the Syria-Iraq border on 6 July. (French Ministry of Armed Forces)

Combat aircraft from Russia and Western countries have ‘clashed' over the Middle East, with US and French officials describing the actions of Russian pilots as being “unprofessional”.

US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) and the French Ministry of Armed Forces released images of close encounters between their aircraft and Russian Sukhoi Su-35 ‘Flanker-E' fighters on 5 and 6 July, respectively.

“Earlier today [on 5 July] … Russian military aircraft engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behaviour while interacting with US aircraft in Syria,” AFCENT said of an encounter of one of its General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with a Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Su-35.

“French Rafales on a protection mission on the Iraqi-Syrian border reacted to a non-professional interaction on the part of a Russian Su-35,” the French Ministry of Armed Forces said on 6 July.

In terms of the US encounter, AFCENT said three Reapers were conducting a mission against Islamic State targets, when three VKS Su-35s began “harassing” them. “Against established norms and protocols, the Russian jets dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the [UAVs], forcing our aircraft to conduct evasive manoeuvres. Additionally, one Russian pilot positioned their aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and engaged afterburner, thereby reducing the operator's ability to safely operate the aircraft,” AFCENT said of the incident.

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