A Russian SU-27 fighter jet pilot came perilously close to shooting down a British RAF surveillance plane last year, in a move which could have killed up to 30 crew onboard and would have been considered an act of war against a NATO member. The Russian pilot fired two missiles at the British RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft as it flew over the neutral Black Sea waters on a surveillance mission. At the time, it was claimed that one missile missed and one malfunctioned. Russia claimed the incident was caused by a “technical malfunction”. But the BBC has been told by three senior Western defence sources that Russian intercepted communication showed that one of the two Russian pilots thought they had been given permission to target the aircraft. One source told the BBC that the pilot heard words to the effect of: “you have the target”, which they interpreted as permission to shoot. The incident was described as “a near shoot down” in leaked US intelligence documents obtained by Tortoise earlier this year.
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