Two Russian strategic bombers were intercepted by US military aircraft in international airspace within 200 miles of Alaska’s coast on Friday morning. NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) confirmed the incident in a statement to CNN, which involved US F-22 stealth fighters escorting the large Russian planes in international airspace away from the US coastline for 40 minutes, according to Reuters.
NORAD and USNORTHCOM spokesman Canadian Army Maj. Andrew Hennessy confirmed in a statement a day after the encounter that, “At approximately 10 a.m. ET, two Alaskan-based NORAD F-22 fighters intercepted and visually identified two Russian TU-95 ‘Bear’ long-range bomber aircraft flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone around the western coast of Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands.”
The referenced Air Defense Identification Zone is said to extend approximately 200 miles off Alaska’s western coast, and it appears the Russian aircraft never entered US airspace, according to NORAD’s statement. The official statement further reads the Russian bombers were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west.”
12 MAY: USAF F-22s scrambled from Elmendorf AB to intercept 2x Tu-95 in the US area of intrest off the west coast of Alaska pic.twitter.com/56ebhE6onM
— Mil Radar (@MIL_Radar) May 12, 2018
The last such incident took place as recently as May 3rd when a Russian bomber and fighter escort jet flew close to 50 miles from Point Hope, Alaska. American stealth planes were scrambled in response and monitored the Russian planes until leaving the area.
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The Russian Defense Ministry also confirmed the incident through state-run RIA news agency, adding the detail that US monitoring jets never came closer than 100 meters to the Russian bombers.
According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, the Tu-95MS planes, together with Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, were conducting planned training flights over the neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.
“The Russian Air Forces’ aircraft were escorted by two US F-22 fighter jets, which did not approach closer than 100 meters, at the part of the route for 40 minutes.”
There’s been a string of tense Russian-US aerial close calls and intercepts over the past months not only off Alaska, but over the Black Sea as well. In April Russian bombers were sighted and monitored four times near the Alaskan coast, while in January a Russian Su-27 reportedly flew within a shockingly close 1.5 meters of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane while both were operating over the Black Sea, in international airspace.
The massive Russian TU-95 ‘Bear’ bombers date to the 1950’s, but in spite of a six decade history as a feared Cold War areal fortress, its first reported use was in 2015 on the Syrian battlefield in support of the Assad government. It’s capable of flying over any US mainland target while hauling over twelve tons of bombs as it has an internal fuel capacity which allows for a 9000 mile range.
One ominous description and history of the Bear’s development is as follows:
The Bear’s original intended mission was fairly clear-cut: in the event the Cold War became really hot, dozens of individual Bears would fly across the Arctic Circle and drop nuclear bombs on targets over the United States. Even if many fell victim to surface-to-air missiles and defending fighters, the reasoning was that some would get through.
However, Friday’s incident off the Alaskan coast appears relatively benign — though the real story could be how it gets politicized in what most pundits have described as the ongoing “new Cold War.”