Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Russian aircraft flew close to a U.S. warship in the Black Sea last week, a U.S. defense official said, a charge the Russian military denied.
Four armed Russian fighter planes and two unarmed fighter planes buzzed the USS Porter, a guided missile destroyer, on Feb. 10, the official told NBC News. Additionally, a Russian maritime patrol plane, also unarmed, flew near the ship at an unusually low altitude.
Two defense officials said the U.S. Navy attempted to contact the four fighter planes by radio, with no response. They added the Su-24 planes were flying without the use of their transponders, radio devices which help identify aircraft and aid in reducing accidents.
The ship was conducting routine operations in international waters, they said. The four armed planes flew within 200 yards of the ship; the two other fighter planes flew within 300 yards.
A statement by U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Michellle Baldanza said, "Several incidents by multiple Russian aircraft in the Black Sea near the destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) on Feb. 10 were assessed by the ship's commanding officer as unsafe and unprofessional. Such incidents are concerning because they can result in accident or miscalculation."
The Russian Defense Ministry denied the accusations Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement, "There were no incidents related to a flyby of Russian military aircraft near the USS Porter destroyer in the Black Sea on Feb. 10. All of our flights were conducted and are being conducted over the neutral waters of the Black Sea in accordance with international rules and safety requirements."
Konashenkov added, "If the U.S. destroyer, as the Pentagon official claims, conducted a 'regular' patrol mission in the vicinity of Russia, tens of thousands miles away from their own shores, it is strange to be surprised about the no less regular flights of our aircraft over the Black Sea."
The incidents occurred on the final day of NATO's 10-day maritime drills near Constanta, Romania.