US Air Force F-22 Raptors have intercepted eight Russian bombers approaching Alaska in the past week as Russia steps up its air patrols near the US.
The latest intercept announced Wednesday by the North American Aerospace Defense Command comes about a week after a similar incident with a similar Russian formation flying unusually close to Alaskan shores on June 10. While Russian bombers flew within eight nautical miles of sovereign American airspace last week, they remained farther away Tuesday, according to the NORAD statement.
The first formation on Tuesday night featured two Tu-95 Bear bombers, two Su-35 Flanker fighter jets and an A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, NORAD said. The second included two more Cold War-era Bear bombers and an A-50. The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace at all times.
The second group of Russian aircraft flew within 32 nautical miles of Alaskan shores, NORAD said. U.S. airspace stretches 12 nautical miles from its shores. But NORAD — the command that defends American and Canadian airspace — expects all aircraft to identify themselves for national security purposes when flying within about 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores, in what are known as air defense identification zones.
The Russian defense ministry has released a video of the intercept.
And on Wednesday, June 10, two Russian bomber formations consisting of the same types of planes in the same groupings flew long-range air patrols near the US, forcing NORAD to respond.
One of the Russian formations came within 20 nautical miles of US shores, but neither aircraft group ever entered US sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from US shores. The ADIZ extends 200 nautical miles from the coastline.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, who commands NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, linked the uptick in Russian military flights off Alaska’s coast to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The general has repeatedly warned Russia would test America’s ability to defends its territory during the crisis.
“For the eighth time this year, Russian military aircraft have penetrated our Canadian or Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zones, and each and every time NORAD forces were ready to meet this challenge,” O’Shaughnessy said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Despite the [coronavirus] pandemic, NORAD constantly monitors the northern approaches to our nations and our operations make it clear that we will conduct homeland defense efforts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
The Russian aircraft that enter the ADIZs are not always bomber aircraft. For instance, earlier this year, NORAD fighters intercepted a couple of Russian Tupolev Tu-142MZ maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft that are suspected of surveilling Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2020.
In April, O’Shaughnessy told reporters at the Pentagon that Russian air activity near North America as a “continuous effort” to “probe and check and see our responses.” He said that NORAD is “postured to maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice.”
“We expect to see continued activity there,” the general said. “That’s why we’re postured the way we are, and that’s why we’re always ready to respond.”