The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected and tracked two Russian Tu-142 “Bear” maritime reconnaisance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft crossing into the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Monday night.
While Russia has frequently sent aircraft near the Alaskan coast, this latest incident is the first NORAD has publicly disclosed in 2021 and comes just days after President Joe Biden took office on Wednesday, Jan. 20.
NORAD tweeted, At approx. 7pm EST, Alaskan NORAD Region positively identified and tracked two Tu-142 Russian maritime patrol aircraft entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. The aircraft remained in int’l airspace and did not enter [U.S.] or [Canadian] sovereign airspace. #WeHaveTheWatch.”
NORAD serves as a U.S. and Canadian bi-national organization tasked with detecting and warning against threats to the airspace of both nations, including by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles.
In a subsequent press release Monday, NORAD said it “employs a layered defense network of satellites, ground-based radars, airborne radar and fighter aircraft to track and identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response. This deliberate identification and monitoring of aircraft entering a U.S. or Canadian ADIZ demonstrates how NORAD executes its continuous aerospace warning and aerospace control missions for the United States and Canada.”
At the time of the press release, NORAD said the Russian aircraft “are operating in international airspace but have not entered United States or Canadian sovereign airspace.”
NORAD did not specify whether it deployed its own aircraft as part of the effort to track the Russian maritime patrol planes.
Russian flights near U.S. airspace are not uncommon, as Alaska is 55 miles from Russia at its closest point. NORAD regularly tracks Russian aircraft flying near North American airspace and has in the past deployed its own aircraft to intercept and divert the Russian aircraft before they can enter U.S. or Canadian airspace.
In October, NORAD F-22 fighter jets intercepted four more Russian Tu-142 aircraft near Alaska. NORAD captured photos of the intercept mission, while the Russian Ministry of Defense obtained video recorded by its own pilots of the U.S. fighter jets performing their close intercepts.
In August, NORAD intercepted six Tu-142 aircraft, again flying near Alaska, and in June, it intercepted eight military Russian aircraft, including Russian Tu-95 bombers, Su-35 fighter jets, and A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft.
In March, another pair of Russian Tu-142s caused particular concern when they loitered over a section of the arctic where the U.S. Navy was conducting submarine breaching and training exercises. NORAD aircraft intercepted and diverted the Russian aircraft.