The BBC has learned from defense sources that a Russian Su-27 fighter tried to shoot down a British spy plane after receiving ambiguous instructions from their ground command.
The incident on September 29, 2022, was widely reported and the British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace appeared in the UK Parliament to explain the incident.
It was accepted at the time that the Russian Su-27 fighter jet pilot had indeed fired a missile that nearly struck a Royal Air Force (RAF) Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint observation aircraft, but that the near catastrophe was due to a “technical malfunction”.
New evidence reported by the BBC now suggests that two missiles were fired, and the Russian pilot was trying to bring down the British spy plane.
On September 29, 2022, the RC-135 was intercepted by two Su-27s whilst flying in international airspace.
According to defense sources the UK surveillance plane intercepted a message to the two Russian pilots effectively saying, “you have the target”.
One of the pilots interpreted this instruction as permission to fire on the British aircraft and initiated a missile launch.
The missile failed to lock onto the target and missed the British spy plane, but it did not malfunction as reported.
Following the missile firing the other pilot lambasted his colleague for his actions as he believed permission had not been given to engage.
However, the rogue pilot then fired another missile which either malfunctioned or was aborted.
The claims appear to confirm a New York Times report on April 12, 2023, that said US intelligence sources believed the incident was much more serious than had been reported.
The sources told the NYT that a Russian pilot had “misinterpreted what a radar operator on the ground was saying to him and thought he had permission to fire”.
Responding to the new claims, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense told that BBC: “Our intent has always been to protect the safety of our operations, avoid unnecessary escalation and inform the public and international community.”