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Russian spy planes tracked flying near Alaska twice this week

Russian Ilyushin IL-20, a military surveillance aircraft. (Dmitry Terekhov/Flickr)
August 10, 2022 and

The U.S. military announced on Tuesday night that it encountered multiple Russian spy planes near the coast of Alaska twice across two separate days.

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The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement, “On two separate occasions, over the past 2 days, the Alaskan NORAD Region detected, tracked and identified Russian surveillance aircraft entering and operating within the Alaskan [Air Defense Identification Zone] ADIZ. The Russian aircraft did not enter American or Canadian sovereign airspace.”

The Alaskan ADIZ is airspace surrounding Alaska in which the U.S. uses satellites, radar, and patrolling fighter jets to monitor for foreign military aircraft.  The ADIZ is not technically considered part of U.S. sovereign airspace, however.

NORAD did not specify what type of Russian surveillance aircraft had entered the ADIZ.

This is not the first time Alaska has sent spy planes near Alaska.

In March of 2020 two Russian Tu-142 reconnaissance planes flew within 50 miles of the Alaskan coast. A month later, in April of 2020, two Russian IL-38 maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft also flew near Alaska.

In both of those 2020 cases, NORAD dispatched F-22 Raptor fighter jets to intercept the Russian spy planes. In the March 2020 case, Canadian forces also deployed CF-18 Hornet fighter jets to help intercept the Russian aircraft.

NORAD did not say whether it dispatched aircraft to intercept and turn back the Russian aircraft spotted flying near Alaska earlier this week.

According to a March 2021 analysis by NORAD commander U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, NORAD “responded to more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska” in 2020 “than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War.”

“We’re back in the peer competition,” VanHerck 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 also flew more military aircraft near Alaska just days after the start of Joe Biden’s presidency. Russia even flew two nuclear-capable bombers near Alaska for hours in November.

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

This latest Russian spy plane activity near Alaska comes at a time of increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. has widely condemned and sanctioned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in February. The U.S. has also supplied weapons, intelligence and aid to Ukraine to help repel Russian forces.