US and Russian aircraft carried out a test of emergency communications over Syria on November 4th, Stars and Stripes reports.
The countries’ aircraft purposefully flew close to each other in order to properly test communication guidelines that the US and Moscow established on October 20. The October agreement designated how close the two countries aircraft could fly to each other and what radio frequencies the aircraft should use to communicate.
“This test was a prudent measure solely to ensure that, in the event coalition aircraft encounter a Russian aircraft during operations in Syria, one of the established and agreed upon modes of communication in the agreement functioned,” Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Stars and Stripes.
“This test assured that the first time this mode of communication was used would not be during an unplanned encounter.”
The test comes amid mounting tensions between the two nations. Both are carrying out airstrikes in Syria, although the two countries have radically different aims and are targeting different groups.
Russian airstrikes have been focused largely in the northwest of Syria and have mostly been against CIA-backed rebel groups and al-Qaeda aligned rebels that currently pose the greatest risk to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. US airstrikes have predominantly targeted ISIS in Syria’s northeast.
Russia and the US’s radically different objectives in Syria have raised tensions between the two nuclear-armed states. In the past, Russian jets have shadowed US MQ-1 Predator drones as they have conducted operations over ISIS territory, including above ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa and near the Syrian-Turkish border.
During operations, US and Russian jets have come within 20 miles of each other while airborne. This was close enough that the planes could see each other in their targeting cameras. At such close ranges, the potential for accidents — or for a fateful misunderstanding between pilots — sharply increases.
The US has also deployed several F-15Cs to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. These planes are equipped specifically for air-to-air combat operations, and could represent a potential US move against Russia should the Obama administration decide to create a no-fly zone in northern Syria.
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