Ahead of a massive Russian military exercise, American forces intercepted Russian bombers suspiciously close to United States territory over the weekend.
A U.S. official confirmed that U.S. F-22 jets intercepted two Russian nuclear bombers flying near Alaska just south of the Aleutian Islands on Saturday, the Washington Free Beacon reported
“Two Alaskan-based NORAD F-22 fighters intercepted and visually identified two Tu-95 ‘Bear’ long-range bomber aircraft flying in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, south of the Aleutian Islands,” said Michael Kucharek, spokesman for the Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
“However the two Russian Tu-95 bomber aircraft were intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” he said.
“At no time did the Russian bombers enter Canadian or United States sovereign airspace,” Kucharek noted.
It is speculated that the Russian bombers were simulating cruise missile strikes against U.S. missile defense systems in Alaska. The Tu-95 bombers are capable of being equipped with nuclear-tipped KH-55 long-range cruise missiles with a range of 1,841 miles.
They were intercepted near the Cobra Dane radar system, located at Eareckson Air Station on the remote Shemya Island, which monitors launches of Russian missiles and aircraft. Cobra Dane is believed to be the first possible target that Russia would strike with a cruise missile if a conflict arose.
Past intercepts of Russian bombers have been suspected as an act of nuclear intimidation. However, this incident could be activity related to an upcoming military exercise involving Chinese forces.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Tuesday that the large-scale Vostok-18 military exercise would begin on Sept. 11 in nine locations in the Japan, Being, and Okhotsk seas in order to test combat performance and foreign grounds operations.
“Taking part in it will be about 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 planes, helicopters and drones, up to 80 combat and logistic ships and up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles,” Shoigu said.
U.S. intelligence officials are said to be closely monitoring the military exercise, and acknowledge concerns over real attacks that could be concealed in the exercise.
The Russian bomber intercept over the weekend was also in firing range of another U.S. missile defense system based at Fort Greely, which featured Ground-Based Interceptors capable of long-range strategic missile defense.
A Russian Defense Ministry statement on Friday also confirmed the incident, and explained that the bombers were carrying out “scheduled flights over neutral waters,” while escorted by the U.S. fighters, Radio Free Europe reported
An Il-78 Midas refueling tanker was also flying near the Russian bombers, indicating the long distance of their mission, a defense official said.
The intercept marks the second time this year that Russian bombers were caught flying close to Alaska. In May, two Tu-85 Russian bombers were also intercepted
flying 55 miles off Alaska’s west coast inside the ADIZ.
A similar incident also took place a year earlier in May 2017.
Like the recent incident, the Russian bombers were said to be flying within international permissions, and no other unusual activity or communication was reported.