Russian MiG-31 Fighters Reportedly Intercepted a U.S. Spy Plane
December 14, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaRussian Air ForceMiG-31NATOSpy Plane

Russian MiG-31 Fighters Reportedly Intercepted a U.S. Spy Plane

The plane escorted a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane as it approached the Russian border.

The Russian Air Force has continued to remain on alert and ready to respond to alleged incursions near the nation’s borders. On Friday, a MiG-31 fighter scrambled to intercept a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft approached the Russian borders over the neutral waters of the Bering Sea.

The fighter aircraft from the Pacific Fleet’s air defense quick reaction alert forces responded and prevented the “violation of the state border,” the Defense Ministry’s National Defense Control Center reported, according to Tass.

“The Russian fighter’s crew identified the air target as a U.S. Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft and escorted it,” the Center said. “The Russian fighter’s flight proceeded in strict compliance with the international rules of using the airspace.”

After the RC-135 flew away from the Russian border, the MiG-31 returned to its home base.

The airspace in the region has become quite active in 2020, and just last week Russian Air Force deputy commander-in-chief made the bold claim that more than thirteen hundred foreign air reconnaissance aircraft had operated near Russia’s borders this year. Moscow has monitored the flights over the waters of the Baltic, Barents and Black Seas near the borders of western Russia, as well as over the Sea of Japan and the Western Pacific to Russia’s Far East.

The Pentagon routinely flies RC-135s in international air space to gather intelligence on Russian military movements, and in some cases Russian pilots have responded in what can only be described as erratic and even potentially dangerous ways. In 2016, a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet flew a reckless maneuver close to an RC-135 spy plane over the Baltic Sea. It conducted a “barrel roll” and flew as close as fifty feet to the lumbering, four-engine RC-135.

While based on the antiquated Boeing 707 airline, the United States Air Force’s RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft can bring “unparalleled snooping capabilities.” It has been used not only to keep track of Russian and Chinese military movements, but the aircraft been employed to study North Korea’s various weapons programs.

The aircraft’s on-board sensor suite enables the crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The RC-135 crew can include more than thirty people including the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight maintenance technicians. It was initially employed the Strategic Air Command to satisfy nationally tasked intelligence collection requirements. The RC-135 has been used in every sizable armed conflict involving U.S. assets during its service tenure.

The Air Force operates twenty-two RC-135s, which are flown by the 55th Wing out of Offutt Air Force Base (AFB), Nebraska. It is powered by four CFM International F108-CF-201 high bypass turbofan engines and has a maximum speed of 580 mph and a range of 3,900 miles (6,500 km). It is unclear where the aircraft in Friday’s mission originated.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: Reuters.