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The two most recent sightings occurred late Wednesday and Thursday, with the first involving two IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft and the second involving two Tu-95 nuclear-capable ‘Bear’ bombers.
The bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska – significantly farther from the US coastline than the two other encounters that occurred on Monday and Tuesday.
There is “no other way to interpret this other than as strategic messaging,” a US defense official told CNN.
On Monday, American F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A US military official called the interaction “safe and professional.”
Less than 24 hours later, a US surveillance aircraft responded to two Russian bombers that were in the same area, this time flying 66 kilometers off the Alaskan coast. The US itself has carried out similar flights along both the Chinese and Russian coasts.
There have not been any reports that Russian aircraft entered US airspace and it is unknown at this time whether the US Air Force scrambled any aircraft in response to either occurrence.
Russian Defense Ministry said the Air Force “regularly carries out patrol missions above the neutral waters of the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean.”
“All such missions are carried out in strict compliance with international regulations and with respect to national borders,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a written statement.
Confirming Monday’s interception, the Russian Defense Ministry offered new details, saying that the US F-22s had trailed the Russian planes for 27 minutes, after which the bombers left the US’s 200 mile air defense identification zone.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the planes were engaged in a patrol mission over international airspace in the Pacific, returning to their base in the Amur Region after flying about 5,000 km at speeds up to 850 km per hour and altitudes up to 10,000 meters.
But what were the Russian planes really doing there?
Even if the Russian aircraft were simply engaged in a training exercise, the question that arises is ‘training for what?’ According to RIA Novosti contributor Alexander Khrolenko, there are several good reasons.
“For one thing, in addition to nuclear bombs, the Tu-95MS is capable of carrying powerful conventional cruise missiles. Russia has recently been showing off this capability, targeting the Daesh and Nusra terrorists in Syria.”
Moreover, Khrolenko said that US generals themselves believe that the Russian flights in the Pacific are intended to help keep an eye on and monitor NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command).
“In Alaska, a couple kilometers from the city of Anchorage is an important US airbase – Elmendorf Air Force Base. It has two runways, and is used to transport troops and cargo from the US to the Far East and Southeast Asia, for testing aviation equipment and for training troops in Arctic conditions.
Elmendorf is also home to the command of NORAD’s Alaska Air Defense zone, and is the headquarters of the US 11th Air Force, which includes fighters, air defense systems, search and rescue, meteorological equipment, and other units. Next door is the US Army’s Fort Richardson Base.”
Khrolenko explained that, “such important military facilities near Russia’s neighborhood cannot be left without attention by our intelligence and aviation.”
By next year, the Russian Ministry of Defense plans to complete the deployment of a new coastal defense division in Chukotka, which at its narrowest point, is less than 100 km from the US border.
The division could to be armed with the Bastion coastal missile system, Iskander tactical missile systems and S-400 air defense systems, and will be integrated into the Russian system of defense of its Far East.
“Reliable support from aviation and effective means of electronic warfare for the new division would also be useful,” Khrolenko concluded.