A pair of Canadian CF-18 Hornets had a close but polite encounter in October with a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet in the international airspace off Romania’s Black Sea coast, according to the Canadian military.
Canada has dispatched five CF-18 Hornets and about 135 personnel mainly from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron based in Bagotville, Quebec, to Constanta, Romania, to take part in NATO Enhanced Air Policing, a peacetime collective defence mission to safeguard NATO airspace.
Speaking to Radio Canada International from Constanta, Lt.-Col. Tim Woods, commander of the Canadian Air Task Force – Romania, said he happened to be on duty on Oct. 18, when Canadian Hornets were scrambled to intercept an aircraft that was fast approaching the Romanian air defence identification zone.
“Initially we didn’t know what it was,” Woods said. “We intercepted and identified it as a Flanker and proceeded to fly alongside it.”
The interaction with the Russian pilot was very professional, Woods said.
“I waved, he waved, he gave me a thumbs up, I gave him a thumbs up,” Woods said. “He took a picture of the CF-18 with a handheld camera and then and went on his way back to Crimea and we returned to Romania.”
(listen to the full interview with Lt.-Col. Tim Woods)Listen
Protecting NATO’s southern flank
This was the only full intercept of a Russian aircraft since the Canadian task force from Bagotville deployed in Romania in September, Woods said. And no Canadian aircraft have been intercepted by Russian fighters close to Crimea, he added.
The Canadian task force keeps a close watch on tensions between Russia and Ukraine around Crimea and in the Azov Sea, Woods said.
“One of the reasons that we are here in this area of the Black Sea is because of its proximity to Crimea,” Woods said.
“But our area of responsibility tends to be more on the west side of the Black Sea, so the interactions that are happening in the Sea of Azov, we haven’t been directly patrolling in that area, we’re more focused on activity near the Romanian airspace.”
Training with NATO allies
The work that Canadian air crews are doing in the skies over Romania and the Black Sea is very similar to what they do day in and day out as part of NORAD in Canada, Woods said.
“It’s a very similar role, in fact it’s a little more straightforward for us here because the area of responsibility is smaller but the amount of time that we have to get airborne is a little quicker with some of the tracks that pop up,” he said.
Aside from doing the air policing role, the other task that Canadian air crews are performing is integrating with other NATO countries and training together.
Canadians have been involved in helping the Romanian Air Force to transition from their old Soviet-built MiG-21 fighters to more modern U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets purchased from Portugal, Woods said.
But the Canadians are also learning from their Romanian counterparts, he said.
“Absolutely! They have a streamlined way of doing things sometimes, which I always appreciate,” Woods said. “Also, their controllers are very good at directing intercepts, that’s one of the pieces we really enjoyed working with them. They’re very precise and they have a very good procedural way of doing them, so we’re going to bring some of that back home.”
This is the second time Woods has been deployed to Romania.
“It’s a beautiful country, I already mentioned to my wife that we should come visit,” Woods said. “It’s a great place to tour: the mountains are beautiful, the beaches are gorgeous here in Constanta, people are very friendly.”
Canadian soldiers marched in the centennial parade on Dec. 1, marking the unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina with the Romanian Kingdom in 1918.
“I think everybody on our team was surprised that, as we marched through the city streets, you could hear from the crowd calls of ‘Bravo Canada!’ They recognized our flag and it was really nice to hear that.”
The task force will complete its mandate on Dec. 31, but the Canadian Armed Forces are planning to deploy another enhanced air policing task force from Cold Lake, Alberta, to Romania again in 2019.