The U.S. North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) deployed F-22 fighters jets to intercept three groups of two Russian Tupelov Tu-142 Russian maritime reconnaissance and patrol aircraft flying towards Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) late Thursday night.
In a Thursday press release, NORAD said U.S. F-22 Raptors flew to intercept the Russian aircraft as they flew within 50 nautical miles of Alaskan shores, and loitered within the ADIZ for around five hours. The U.S. fighters effort was assisted by KC-135 air refuelers during the hours-long intercept mission. Though the Russian aircraft loitered within the ADIZ, at no point did they enter U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace.
Russian aircraft have attempted to enter the ADIZ on numerous prior occasions in 2020.
In one set of June intercepts, NORAD intercepted eight Russian aircraft, including Tu-95 bombers, Su-35 fighter jets, and A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft flying within 30 miles of Alaska. That incident came at the start of a wave of June intercept incidents. A week after intercepting the first eight Russian aircraft, NORAD intercepted another eight more Russian aircraft, flying in two bomber formations. Within a two week period, NORAD carried out five separate intercept missions.
On Friday, U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander of NORAD, said, “Our northern approaches have had an increase in foreign military activity as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and probe our defenses. This year, we’ve conducted more than a dozen intercepts, the most in recent years. The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more apparent.”
VanHerck’s predecessor, Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy assessed that Russia’s numerous flights around Alaska were part of an effort to test U.S. defenses for weaknesses.
A March intercept incident saw more Russian Tu-142 Russian reconnaissance aircraft spied on U.S. submarine drills, flying around an area where the drills were being performed.
NORAD uses a layered network of radars, satellites, and fighter aircraft to identify aircraft flying towards U.S. and Canadian airspace. All of NORAD’s North American intercept flights and air defense missions are designated Operation NOBLE EAGLE.
Canadian Air Force CF-18s have also participated in intercept missions against Russian aircraft in 2020.
Russian aircraft have also harassed U.S. aircraft flying on missions flying over international waters. In one incident, a Russian Su-35 fighter jet flew an inverted pass within 25 feet of a U.S. Navy P8-A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flying over the Mediterranean Sea. Days later a Russian Su-35 again flew within 25 feet of a Navy P8-A. The Navy deemed both incidents unsafe and said in each case, the close pass by the Russian fighter caused wake turbulence for the U.S. pilots.