Exclusive: USS Farragut chases Viktor Leonov off Florida coast (photos)

The Viktor Leonov is a familiar sight, as it was during the Obama administration in 2014, again in 2015, and more recently in mid-February off the coast of Virginia. The USS Farragut played cat and mouse with the Russian spyship

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USS Farragut chasing the Russian spyship Viktor Leonov Image: —Photo Credit and 2017 copyright: R.R. Walker for @CommDigiNews

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., March 26, 2017 — A U.S. Navy destroyer continued tailing a Russian spy ship for a second day about 25 nautical miles (28.8 statute miles) off the U.S. coast near Naval Station Mayport.

Cessna 337 pilot Rocky Walker first spotted the ships late Saturday morning and photographed them individually.  Today he photographed them in the same frame as they were “playing cat and mouse” outside the St. Mary’s Inlet about five nautical miles (5.8 statute miles) south of their position yesterday, Walker said.

USS Farragut (DDG_99) Image: By US Navy employee – http://www.farragut.navy.mil, Domena publiczna, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3547576

The destroyer, the USS Farragut — DDG 99 — trailing just over a mile behind the Russian vessel, repeatedly warned yesterday that it was conducting “live-fire exercises” in the area. It made that announcement every half-hour by radio on VHF Channel 16 reserved for international marine hailing and emergency announcements.

The warning was routine and issued for the safety of all shipping and aircraft.  Navy public affairs officers didn’t return calls Sunday morning to verify whether the USS Farragut was tasked with following the spy ship Viktor Leonov (SSV 175) or how long it had been observing the spy ship.

Viktor Leonov Image by: —Photo Credit and 2017 copyright: R.R. Walker for @CommDigiNews

The Farragut was not issuing that warning today.

The Viktor Leonov is a familiar sight off the U.S. coast, where it regularly churns news, as it did during the Obama administration in 2014, again in 2015, and more recently in mid-February when it cruised 17 nautical miles (19.6 statute miles) off the coast of Virginia.

Twitter has been rolling with alarmist chatter for months decrying the presence of the spy ship, with some Tweets stretching well beyond suspended disbelief to find a Russian connection with the Trump administration, and others calling for the United States to bomb the ship.

However, its activities are known and routine, and similar to those the United States also conducts in international waters.

A query about the Russian vessel during a February 16 news conference prompted President Trump to say, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone is going to say that’s so great. That’s not great. I would love to get along with Russia.”

The Viktor Leonov is an auxiliary general intelligence ship. The USS Farragut, based at Mayport, has been involved in anti-piracy activities off the cost of Somalia and elsewhere in the Arabian Sea.

The Cessna 337 aircraft is also known as an O-2, which was used for forward air control during the Vietnam war, Walker said.

—David Alan Coia is an editor, writer and educator based in Arlington, VA.

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