NORAD Intercepts Russian Strategic Bombers Near Alaska; ‘Not a Threat’

( – U.S. Air Force fighters were scrambled on Monday to intercept four Russian planes, including nuclear-capable bombers near Alaska, the North American Aerospace Defense Command reported on Tuesday.

NORAD characterized their presence there as a relatively common and unthreatening occurrence, and said it believed the incident was “in no way related” to recent NORAD operations over North America, which have included the tracking and shoot-down of a Chinese spy balloon and three still-unidentified aerial objects.

The incident occurred outside of U.S. or Canadian airspace, but in the U.S. air defense identification zone (ADIZ) – an area that lies beyond a country’s sovereign airspace, but where aircraft are usually expected to identify themselves to the relevant authority and file flight plans.

NORAD identified the Russian planes as Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers, and Sukhoi-35 fourth-generation fighter jets.

They were intercepted by two U.S. F-16 fighters, supported by two F-35As fighters, an E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control plane, and two KC-135 aerial refueling planes.


The Russian aircraft “remained in international airspace and did not enter American or Canadian sovereign airspace.”

The ADIZ is located to the north and south of Alaska, and also stretches a significant way westward across the Bering Sea. NORAD did not say where the planes were flying, although the Russian defense ministry reported that two Tu-95 bombers had carried out a mission lasting more than seven hours over the “neutral waters of the Bering Sea.”

The Colorado-based command said it was its assessment that “this Russian flight activity is in no way related to recent NORAD and U.S. Northern Command operations associated with airborne objects over North America during the last two weeks.”

“This Russian activity in the North American ADIZ occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat, nor is the activity seen as provocative,” NORAD said. Since Russia resumed “long-range aviation activity” in 2007, the command had recorded an average of six or seven intercepts in the Alaska ADIZ a year, with actual annual intercepts varying in number from a low of zero to a high of 15.

“NORAD tracks and positively identifies foreign military aircraft that enter the ADIZ,” it said, adding that it “routinely monitors foreign aircraft movements and as necessary, escorts them from the ADIZ.”

The most recent incident in the Alaska ADIZ prior to this week’s was reported by NORAD last October, when two U.S. F-16s intercepted two Russian Tu-95 bombers.

NORAD also reported Russian intercepts in the ADIZ in March 2021 and in January 2021, both times involving Russian Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft.

After the Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia in the early 1990s stopped sending strategic bombers on long-range flights, but President Vladimir Putin announced in 2007 that the patrols would resume with immediate effect. He said at the time that other nations had not followed Moscow’s example in suspending the flights, and this had posed a “strategic risk” for Russia.

The following year, the Russian Air Force said Tu-95 bombers accompanied by aerial tankers had begun carrying out routine patrols over neutral Atlantic waters.

Later in 2008, Moscow dispatched Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers to Venezuela, where then President Hugo Chavez in a speech welcoming their arrival declared, “The Yankee hegemony is finished and the world becomes pluripolar.”

Russia deployed nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela again in 2013, and for a third time in 2018, when they held joint military exercises over the Caribbean with the air force of the Maduro regime.

In recent years, Russian and Chinese strategic bombers have begun carrying out joint patrols near the airspace of Japan and South Korea, both U.S. treaty allies. They have taken place at least five times since mid-2019, most recently last November.

A previous occasion coincided with a visit by President Biden to Tokyo for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Quad. The Russian and Chinese bombers passed through the Japanese and South Korean ADIZs, prompting both to scramble jets.

In a speech in Alabama in August 2021, NORAD commander Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck said that over the previous year, the command had had more Russian military ADIZ incursions “than we’ve ever had since the end of the Cold War.”

During nuclear weapons exercises overseen by Putin last October, videos published on social media showed Tu-95 bombers firing nuclear-capable missiles at practice targets. The defense ministry said the drills were designed to practice Russia’s response to a potential nuclear attack.


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