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US responded to ‘more Russian warplanes near Alaska in 2020 than any year since end of Cold War,’ NORAD commander says

NORAD intercepts Russian bombers in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on June 10, 2020. (NORAD/Released)
April 01, 2021

Last month, U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) command and Northern Command (NORTHCOM), told the Senate Armed Services Committee that in 2020, NORAD “responded to more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War.”

VanHerck described Russia’s flight patterns during a Defense Writers Group discussion on Wednesday reported by USNI News. He said Russian warplanes are loitering near Alaskan airspace “for hours” whenever they perform flyovers in the Arctic region, and he credited Russia’s activity near Alaska to a growing great power competition between the U.S. and Russia.

“We’re back in the peer competition,” he said. “Clearly, Russia is trying to reassert on a global stage their influence and their capabilities. That’s exactly what’s going on. It’s great power competition.”

Russia flew numerous military flights near Alaska throughout 2020. In March.

VanHerck told the Senate, “These Russian military operations include multiple flights of heavy bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, and intelligence
collection platforms near Alaska. These efforts show both Russia’s military reach and how they rehearse potential strikes on our homeland.”

VanHerck also said Russia’s military has been practicing amphibious landing drills on its Chukotka Peninsula, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Russia has also launched anti-submarine patrols and anti-ship cruise missile launches from within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

VanHerck’s comments come as Russia has continued to assert its presence in the Arctic.

In January, Russia flew two Tu-142 “Bear” maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft within the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) just days after President Joe Biden took office.

Last week, three Russian ballistic missile submarines participated in Arctic training drills near the North Pole.

Russia has increasingly looked to expand its capabilities in the Arctic in recent years. In March 2020, VanHerck’s predecessor, U.S. Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, said, “The Arctic is no longer a fortress wall and the oceans are no longer protective moats. They are avenues of approach to the homeland.”

Asked what VanHerck makes of Russia’s activities in the Arctic and how the U.S. is responding, he noted the annual ICE X training in the Arctic and the Global Information Dominance Exercise as two examples of U.S. military efforts to maintain its own posture in the Arctic region.

“We’ve closely partnered with NATO and [U.S. European Command] as far as the bomber task force and conducting operations that show our capability as those forces return home as well. And the GIDE experiment that we just did as well helps get after the capabilities,” VanHerck said.