U.S. fighter jets intercept Russian warplanes off Alaska

A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 turboprop-powered strategic bomber flies above the Kremlin in Moscow, on May 7, 2015. U.S. fighter jets intercepted Tussian Tu-95 bombers and Su-35 fighters outside Alaskan airspace on Monday. (Alexander Nemenova/AFP/Getty Images)
The U.S. military scrambled five aircraft on Monday to intercept two groups of Russian warplanes that flew in opposite directions off the coast of Alaska but never entered the U.S. sovereign airspace, officials with the bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) said Tuesday.

First, NORAD dispatched two F-22 Raptor stealth fighters based in Alaska to intercept one group of Russian air planes consisting of two Tu-95 strategic bombers known by NATO identification as “Bears,” said NORAD spokesperson Capt. Cameron Hillier of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Two additional Raptors were scrambled to intercept and accompany another group of two Russian Bears and two Su-35 fighter jets flying in the opposite direction, Hillier said.

The U.S. military also dispatched an E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) to monitor the situation, Hillier said.

An E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft lands at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma, March 23, 2007. (Stephen Holman/Tulsa World/AP)

The interaction between Russian and U.S. air crews was “safe and professional” and the Russian planes remained at all times in international airspace, Hillier said.

The Russian aircraft did not enter the Canadian Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the Arctic and no Canadian fighter jets were involved in the intercept, he added.

According to international law, a country’s sovereign airspace extends 22 kilometres from its coastlines. The ADIZ off Alaska extends more than 300 kilometres from the shore.

During the Cold War, such intercepts over the Arctic were regular events, however, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, cash-strapped Russia drastically reduced its strategic bomber air patrols.

In recent years, with tensions between Russia and the West mounting in other areas of the world, Moscow has increased the number of patrols by its Bears that have been modernized and outfitted to carry long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s 2019 budget slim on hard power Arctic commitments, experts say, Radio Canada International

Finland: US, Norwegian troops join military drill in Arctic Finland, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland & UK sign agreement to boost security, defence cooperation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: US, Russian bombers fly missions on same day near Norwegian airspace, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian navy holds live-fire exercise in Norwegian Sea for second time in a month, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Cross-party talks to expand military marred by political feud, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. must pay attention to growing China-Russia alliance in Arctic: expert, Alaska Public Media

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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