Rogue Russian pilot ‘tried to shoot down RAF aircraft in 2022’

A SU-27 fighter fired the missiles at the RAF aircraft  (AFP via Getty Images)
A SU-27 fighter fired the missiles at the RAF aircraft (AFP via Getty Images)

A Russian pilot tried to shoot down an RAF surveillance plane after believing he had permission to fire, it has been claimed.

The pilot fired two missiles, the first of which missed rather than malfunctioned as claimed at the time, the BBC has reported.

Russia had said the incident last September when missiles were fired at the RAF aircraft - with a crew of up to 30 - was caused by a “technical malfunction”.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) publicly accepted the Russian explanation.

But now three senior Western defence sources with knowledge of the incident have told the BBC that Russian communications intercepted by the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft give a different account.

The RAF aircraft was flying a surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace on September29 last year when it encountered two Russian SU-27 fighter jets.

The intercepted communications show that one of the Russian pilots thought he had been given permission to target the British aircraft, following an ambiguous command from a Russian ground station, the defence sources told the BBC.

The Russian pilot released an air-to-air missile, which successfully launched but failed to lock on to its target meaning it was a miss, not a malfunction, the BBC has been told.

The second Russian pilot did not think he had permission, the sources said. He remonstrated and swore at his wingman when he fired the first missile, the BBC reported.

Another missile was fire by the first pilot. The second missile simply fell from the wing - suggesting the weapon either malfunctioned or that the launch was aborted, the BBC was told.

In a statement to MPs on October 20, then Defence Secretary Ben Wallace called it a “potentially dangerous engagement”.

But he accepted the Russian explanation, saying: “We do not consider this incident to constitute a deliberate escalation on the part of the Russians, and our analysis concurs that it was due to a malfunction.”

A secret intelligence leak also revealed that the US military’s version of events matches what the defence sources told the BBC.

In document published online by US airman Jack Teixera, the same incident was described as “a near shoot-down”.

“The incident was far more serious than originally portrayed and could have amounted to an act of war,” the New York Times reported.

According to two US defence officials, the newspaper said, the Russian pilot had misinterpreted an order from the ground.

In response to the leaked report of a “near shoot-down” the UK MoD issued another statement claimed a “significant proportion of the content of these reports [from the documents] is untrue, manipulated or both”.

The Ministry of Defence has been contacted for comment following the BBC report on Thursday.