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4 Russian warplanes intercepted near Alaska by US jets

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Dec. 15, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever)
February 15, 2023

U.S. fighter jet pilots intercepted four Russian military aircraft flying near Alaska on Monday in what NORAD described as a “routine” encounter.

The Russian warplanes were operating somewhere in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, a large swath of closely-monitored airspace off the coast of the state, according to a statement from NORAD. The aircraft never entered U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace.

NORAD said similar Russian activity “occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat, nor is the activity seen as provocative.” This latest instance also was not related to the multiple unidentified objects shot down in North American airspace in recent days, according to the statement.

“NORAD had anticipated this Russian activity and, as a result of our planning, was prepared to intercept it,” the statement said.

An interception occurs when one aircraft moves next to another to identify it and establish communications. NORAD said that it “routinely monitors foreign aircraft movements and as necessary, escorts them from the ADIZ.”

The four Russian aircraft included SU-35 fighter jets and TU-95 BEAR-H strategic bombers, but it is unclear how many of each. They were intercepted by two F-16 fighters from NORAD, which were supported by two F-35A fighters, an E-3 Sentry with powerful radar, and two KC-135 Stratotanker refueling planes.

In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered strategic bomber planes to make long-range patrols on a regular basis for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the average year has seen about six-to-seven interceptions of Russian military aircraft in the North American ADIZ, according to NORAD. 

Two Russian bombers were intercepted in the Alaskan ADIZ in October. Prior to that, NORAD tracked Russian aircraft within air defense identification zones on Sept. 11, 2022 and encountered Russian spy planes in the Alaskan ADIZ over two days in August.

NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck has said that 2020 saw “more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War,” adding: “Russia is trying to reassert on a global stage their influence and their capabilities.”

Since 2007, the most Russian military interceptions in a single year has been 15, and the fewest has been zero, according to NORAD.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.