A Russian pilot tried to shoot down an RAF surveillance plane after believing he had permission to fire, the BBC has learned.
The pilot fired two missiles, the first of which missed rather than malfunctioned as claimed at the time.
Russia had claimed the incident last September was caused by a “technical malfunction”.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) publicly accepted the Russian explanation.
But now three senior Western defence sources with knowledge of the incident have told the BBC that Russian communications intercepted by the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft give a very different account from the official version.
The RAF plane – with a crew of up to 30 – was flying a surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace on 29 September last year when it encountered two Russian SU-27 fighter jets.
The intercepted communications show that one of the Russian pilots thought he had been given permission to target the British aircraft, following an ambiguous command from a Russian ground station.
However, the second Russian pilot did not. He remonstrated and swore at his wingman when he fired the first missile.
The Rivet Joint is loaded with sensors to intercept communications. The RAF crew would have been able to listen in to the incident which could have resulted in their own deaths.
The MoD will not release details of those communications.
Responding to these new revelations an MoD spokesperson said: “Our intent has always been to protect the safety of our operations, avoid unnecessary escalation and inform the public and international community.”