In May, Pacific Air Forces boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle detailed “increasingly active” Russian military maneuvers in the Asia-Pacific in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, particularly air and naval activity. The environment has led to at least one tense incident already. Reports emerged recently of an April incident where a Russian Su-27 Flanker flew dangerously close to an RC-135U Combat Sent surveillance aircraft, coming within 100 feet of the aircraft’s cockpit and then turning its wing to brandish its air-to-air missiles. PACAF and Defense Department officials confirm the intercept occurred off Russia’s East Coast, north of Japan in the Sea of Okhotsk, and no other US aircraft were involved in the incident. USAF’s two RC-135Us,from the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Neb., deploy routinely to US bases in the Pacific, where they collect electronic intelligence on foreign air defense and radar systems. PACAF spokesman Lt. Col. Aaron Burgstein told Air Force Magazine there are “no plans to change any of our schedules or procedures” following the incident. PACAF has not seen an increase in “unsafe intercepts” since April, he added, and still considers the event to be an “isolated incident.” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren said senior DOD officials communicated with the Russian military on the matter. “RC-135 flight profiles are planned and executed in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” Warren noted.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.