Russian jets, spy ships deployed after Trump sacks advisor
PRESIDENT Putin appears displeased at losing his man in the Trump administration: Russian warplanes have buzzed a US navy destroyer and a spy ship has appeared off the US coast.
The US Navy has today revealed Russian Su-24 attack jets swooped on the USS Porter in the Black Sea on Saturday Australian time, less than a day after President Trump announced he was 'considering' National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's future.
Mr Flynn's fall from grace - and resignation yesterday - followed controversy over his allegedly close ties to Russian powerbrokers, and his attempts to cover-up a series of phone calls to the Russian ambassador.
Now Moscow has suddenly ramped-up its aggressive military posture-making.
In what the US Navy calls 'unsafe and unprofessional' conduct, the destroyer was approached three times by Russian military aircraft which refused to respond to queries.
Meanwhile, a Russian spy ship has been located sitting off the US East Coast amid revelations Russia secretly deployed new medium-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles - a violation of a 1987 treaty - to two sites in Europe in December.
BLACK SEA BUZZ
In one instance two Su-24 attack jets buzzed the destroyer while flying fast and low, while another incident involved a low-flying Il-38 'Dolphin' surveillance aircraft (Russia's equivalent to the P-3 Orion). A third such 'incident' involved a single Su-24.
"Such incidents are concerning because they can result in accident or miscalculation," Captain Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for US European Command, said in a statement this morning.
Another US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the closest incident that day involved the lone Su-24, which came within 180 meters of the Porter at an altitude of 90 meters.
All of the Russian warplanes ignored USS Porter's radio calls, and all had their peacetime radar transponders (designed to make it easier to spot them on radar) turned off.
Neither official stated whether or not the Russian warplanes were armed.
The USS Porter had just finished participating in the multinational Sea Shield 2017 joint exercises conducted with Romania.
In April last year two Su-24 attack jets flew simulated bombing runs on the US guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea. These aircraft were flying so low they kicked up a 'fantail' of sea spray behind them.
The Russian signals intelligence ship SSV-175 Viktor Leonov is armed with anti-aircraft missiles and guns. It is capable of recording and analysing a wide range of electronic signals.
SPY SHIP SIGHTED
Fox News in the US reports defence officials have confirmed a Russian electronic surveillance ship - packed full of sensors and computers designed to sift through communications traffic - was spotted off the US East Coast near Washington DC yesterday.
The ship is in international waters about 110km off Delaware, well outside the 22km national waters boundary.
The ship, the SSV-175 Viktor Leonov, was last seen sailing near the US in April 2015, an official said.
The most recent visit by a Russian spy ship was reportedly in September 2015, outside a US Navy submarine base at Kings Bay.
As well as intercepting communications, the ship is designed to record radar and sonar signals which can then be analysed for distinctive 'signatures' and performance characteristics.
The most significant military installation near the Russian spy ship is believed to be the US Navy's nuclear submarine base at New London, Connecticut.
President Trump's promise to improve relations with Moscow faces its most severe test, however, with the revelation Russia has actively deployed a nuclear-capable cruise missile designed in contravention to international arms treaties.
It has been given the designation SSC-8.
While the existence of the intermediate-range cruise missile was revealed earlier during the Obama administration in 2014, this is the first time it has been seen in active service.
The ground-based weapon system is particularly mobile and capable of reaching deep within Europe.
US officials have told media that one Russian battalion equipped with the banned weapons is based at a test site in southern Russia, near Volgograd.
The second battalion was moved to an undisclosed operational base in December.
News of the deployment of the missile comes amid a major reinforcement of NATO's Eastern European states with the deployment of US army tanks and helicopter units, as well as tanks and troops from the UK and Germany.
And the US Strategic Command this morning conducted flight tests of two unarmed Trident II submarine-launched intercontinental nuclear-capable missiles off the coast of California.