Tensions between the United States and Russia are higher than they've been since the heights of the Cold War. Russia, for its part, doesn't seem to be helping matters after its fighters made multiple low-altitude, close-range, high-speed passes – the kind that look a lot like simulated attack runs – on a US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer earlier this week.
Russian Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer made repeated passes over the USS Donald Cook between April 11 and 12 while she sailed through the international waters of the Baltic Sea. On the April 12 alone, the Fencers made 11 low-altitude passes. That same day, a Kamov Ka-27 Helix helicopter flew seven low-altitude circles around the destroyer.
Over the course of both days, the destroyer attempted to radio the aircraft in both English and Russian and warn them of what the Cook's commanding officer called unsafe and unprofessional, a statement echoed by the Navy. You can see the passes in the videos below.
"We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death," an official Navy statement read.
Both the Fencers and the Helix are capable of anti-shipping operations – the Sukhois can carry the Kh-31, an anti-ship cruise missile with a range of 25 to 103 kilometers (15.5 to 64 miles) and the chopper can be armed with torpedoes. The Fencers are particularly dangerous, in that they're designed specifically for hitting supersonic speeds at extremely low altitudes. That's not to say the Donald Cook would be defenseless – YouTube the phrase "Phalanx CIWS firing" to see what would likely happen if the Russians were actually a threat.
And no, as provocative as Russia's actions were, they certainly weren't a threat. That's per retired Navy Captain Rick Hoffman. Hoffman is the former commander of the frigate USS DeWert and the cruiser USS Hue City, and aptly pointed out that none of the signs of this being a serious attack were present. The Sukhois weren't carrying weapons in any of their passes, for example, and the Cook didn't detect the kind of electronic emissions that would signal a missile lock.
"Well, we're not at war with Russia," Hoffman told Navy Times. "You don't get to kill people just because they're being annoying."