It’s always ‘routine training’ until the training suffices for the real engagement.
Russian strategic nuclear bombers conducted at least 16 incursions into northwestern U.S. air defense identification zones over the past 10 days, an unusually sharp increase in aerial penetrations, according to U.S. defense officials.
Also, during one bomber incursion near Alaska, a Russian intelligence-gathering jet was detected along with the bombers.
“Over the past week, NORAD has visually identified Russian aircraft operating in and around the U.S. air defense identification zones,” said Maj. Beth Smith, spokeswoman for U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Smith called the Russian flights “a spike in activity” but sought to play down the threat, stating the flights were assessed as routine training missions and exercises.
The bomber flights took place mainly along the Alaskan air defense identification zone that covers the Aleutian Islands and the continental part of the state, and one incursion involved entry into Canada’s air defense zone, Smith said.
The Russian strategic aircraft included a mix of Tu-95 Bear H heavy bombers and Tu-142 Bear F maritime reconnaissance aircraft, she said, adding that one IL-20 intelligence collection aircraft was detected during the flight incursions over the past week to 10 days.
However, other defense officials said the large number of aerial incursions is very unusual and harkens back to the Cold War, when Soviet bombers frequently sought to trigger air defenses along the periphery of U.S. territory as preparation for a nuclear conflict.
Moscow, under strongman President Vladimir Putin, is engaged in a major buildup of its strategic nuclear forces. The modernization includes new missiles of several ranges, new strategic missile submarines, and new long-range bombers.
As for its long-range aviation flights near U.S. coasts, Russia has been sharply increasing the activities, especially in the Pacific Northwest near Alaska, Canada, and the West Coast.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported that two Bear bombers flew within 50 miles of the California coast on June 9—the closest the Russians have flown their nuclear-capable bombers since the days of the Cold War. A U.S. F-15 intercepted the bombers.
A defense official disagreed with the spokeswoman on the increased bomber forays. Russian strategic nuclear forces appear to be “trying to test our air defense reactions, or our command and control systems,” said an official familiar with reports of the incursions.
“These are not just training missions,” the official added.
Full article: Russian Strategic Bombers Conduct More Than 16 Incursions of U.S. Air Defense Zones (Washington Free Beacon)