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DoD details Russian buzzing of U.S. frigate

Sep. 16, 2010 - 08:15PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 16, 2010 - 08:15PM  |  
The frigate Taylor is moored Sept. 8 in Murmansk, Russia, to celebrate the end of World War II. According to a Sept. 16 news report, Russian navy aircraft made a series of Cold War-style close passes over Taylor after its visit to the northern Russian port city.
The frigate Taylor is moored Sept. 8 in Murmansk, Russia, to celebrate the end of World War II. According to a Sept. 16 news report, Russian navy aircraft made a series of Cold War-style close passes over Taylor after its visit to the northern Russian port city. (MC1 Edward Kessler / Navy)
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Russian navy aircraft made a series of very close passes over the frigate Taylor last week after its visit to the northern port city of Murmansk, defense officials confirmed Friday, in a chain of incidents so unusual they were discussed in person by the top U.S. and Russian naval officers at the Pentagon.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead was already set to meet his Russian counterpart, Adm. Vladimir Vysotskiy, as part of an official visit by Russian defense officials, so the two used the chance Wednesday to also talk about Taylor's encounters, Roughead's spokesman confirmed.

"They did have a productive, private conversation at their level, and CNO was satisfied," Cmdr. Charlie Brown told Navy Times.

The first incident took place Sept. 10, when a Tupolev Tu-95 Bear maritime patrol plane overflew the Taylor as it was sailing away from Murmansk in international waters in the Barents Sea. The Bear made two passes, the first at about 10,000 feet and the second much closer — about 50 yards away from the ship and only about 100 feet above it, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan. The plane apparently had its bomb bay doors open.

In the second incident on Sept. 11, the Taylor sighted a Russian warship that dispatched two Ka-29 Helix helicopters, which buzzed the frigate several times, coming as close as about 30 yards and about 100 feet above it, Lapan said. He did not have information about the Russian ship the helicopters had come from, but he did say the Taylor made some kind of contact with it, although "the nature of the communications was unclear.

The closeness of the contacts made them "a rare occurrence," Lapan acknowledged, which is what prompted Roughead and Vysotskiy to discuss whether the encounters violated "agreed-upon protocols," he said.

American and Russian crews spent decades meeting each other in the skies above U.S. carrier battle groups, as they were then known, with Russian planes trying to get as close as possible and American fighters trying to keep them at bay, but the practice is now much less common. It still does happen occasionally: An http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/04/navy_iran_ike_encounter_042810w/">Iranian maritime patrol plane buzzed the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower at sea in the Middle East in April, for example, and http://www.navytimes.com/news/2008/02/ap_russianbombers_080211/">two Russian Bears over-flew the carrier Nimitz in the Pacific in 2008.

Back then, Roughead was sanguine: He told reporters he thought the Russian bombers "were just stretching their wings. This was something that was really quite common in the days of the Soviet navy," he said.

What's unusual about the Taylor's incidents is that they involve a small, relatively low profile surface ship, not a full carrier strike group. Moreover, Russian officials had invited the Taylor to Murmansk to help commemorate the end of World War II; its crew took part in memorial services and other public ceremonies. The city was the destination of U.S. and allied convoys that supplied the Soviet Union with materiel for use in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Staff writer atilghman@atpco.com?subject=Question from AirForceTimes.com reader">Andrew Tilghman contributed to this report.

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