A U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance aircraft, was approached in an “unprofessional manner” by a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker-C fighter aircraft in “approved international airspace” on Friday according to a U.S. Southern Command statement released Sunday.
“After reviewing video documentation, we have determined the Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission,” the release said.
The U.S. aircraft “was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved mission in international airspace over #CaribbeanSea," Southern Command tweeted earlier today.
The Venezuelan fighter “took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas," but the release didn’t specify how long the intercept lasted.
The United States, allies and regional partners routinely patrol the Caribbean Sea with ships and aircraft on counter-drug missions. Intercepts of U.S. aircraft have happened more frequently overseas near Russia and China, and are relatively uncommon so close to the U.S. homeland.
Southern Command did not detail if this EP-3 Aries was looking for drug smugglers or if its purpose was to monitor Venezuela while tensions with the regime of embattled President Nicolás Maduro continue to simmer.
The Maduro “regime continues to undermine internationally recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements” and its “unprovoked and unjustified acts” are undermining the ability of “the U.S. and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace," Southern Command stated.
Southern Command’s release also took a swipe at Russia, which has continued supporting Maduro despite National Assembly President Juan Guaidó declaration in January that he’s the South American country’s legitimate leader.
In the past months, most governments in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, have recognized Guaidó's rule.
Maduro continues to draw support from nations such as Cuba, China and Russia.
As recently as last month, Russia buzzed a U.S. P-8A Poseidon over the Mediterranean in a similar incident.
“This latest action also demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime and adds to Maduro’s growing legacy of reckless and negligent behavior, which undermines international rule of law and efforts to counter illicit trafficking." Southern Command’s release said.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.