Bill Gertz reports for the Washington Free Beacon that four Russian strategic bombers triggered U.S. air defense systems while conducting practice bombing runs near Alaska this week, with two of the (Tupolev) Tu-95 Bear H aircraft coming within 50 miles of the California coast, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) confirmed yesterday, June 11, 2014.
“The last time we saw anything similar was two years ago on the Fourth of July,”
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Norad spokesman, said the Bear H incursions began Monday around 4:30 p.m. Pacific time when radar detected the four turbo-prop powered bombers approaching the U.S. air defense zone near the far western Aleutian Islands.
Two U.S. Air Force F-22 jets were scrambled and intercepted the bombers over the Aleutians.
After tracking the bombers as they flew eastward, two of the four Bears turned around and headed west toward the Russian Far East. The bombers are believed to be based at the Russian strategic base near Anadyr, Russia. The remaining two nuclear-capable bombers then flew southeast and around 9:30 P.M. entered the U.S. northern air defense zone off the coast of Northern California. Two U.S. F-15 jets were deployed and intercepted the bombers as they eventually flew within 50 miles of the coast before turning around and heading west.
A defense official said the four bombers also were supported by two IL-78 aerial refueling tankers that were used for mid-air refueling during the operation this week.
The Tu-95 is a long-range strike aircraft capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles. Other versions are equipped with intelligence-gathering sensors and electronic warfare gear. It has a range of around 9,400 miles without refueling.
Davis said the aircraft “acted professionally” and the bombers appeared to be conducting a training mission. “They typically do long range aviation training in the summer and it is not unusual for them to be more active during this time,” he said. “We assess this was part of training. And they did not enter territorial airspace.”
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former Alaska commander for Norad, said he does not remember a case of Russian strategic bombers coming that close to the U.S. coast.
McInerney said in an email, “Again we see the Obama administration through their covert—but overt to Mr. Putin—unilateral disarmament, inviting adventurism by the Russians. At the height of the Cold War I do not remember them getting this close. Mr. Putin had to approve this mission and he is just showing his personal contempt for President Obama right after meeting him in Normandy less than a week ago.”
McInerney said no American president has been treated with such disrespect in U.S. history: “A sad day indeed and at the same time Mosul and Tikrit [Iraq] fall to radical Islamists after the Obama administration’s failed Iraq policy. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.”
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the Russian flights “intentional provocations.” He said in an interview that “Putin is doing this specifically to try to taunt the U.S. and exercise, at least in the reported world, some sort of saber-rattling, muscle-flexing kind of nonsense. Truth of the matter is we would have squashed either one of those [bombers] like baby seals. It’s a provocation and it’s unnecessary. But it fits in with [Putin’s] macho kind of saber-rattling.” Conaway expects Russia will carry out more of these kinds of incidents in the future.
In fact, in April 2014, a telephone conversation between two Russian ambassadors was posted on YouTube and appeared to show the diplomats joking about the Ukraine crisis and discussing the possible incursions in the United States and Eastern Europe. The leaked conversation between Igor Nilokaevich Chubarov and Sergey Viktorovich Bakharev, Russian ambassadors to the African nations Eritrea and Zimbabwe and Malawi, respectively, includes references to post-Crimea Russian imperialism to include Eastern Europe and “Californialand” and “Miamiland.”
The bomber incursion is only the latest in a series of Russia’s increasing strategic assertiveness toward the United States:
- On April 23, 2014, a Russian Su-27 interceptor jet flew dangerously close to within 100 feet of the cockpit of a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan.
- In July 2013, two Russian Tu-95s were intercepted by Japanese and South Korean jets near the Korean peninsula and Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island.
- On April 28, 2013, two Russian Bear Hs were intercepted near Alaska.
- On February 12, 2013, two Russian Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bombers, equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, circled the island of Guam and were followed by U.S. Air Force F-15 jets from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The bomber incident was considered highly unusual. Russian strategic bombers are not known to have conducted such operations in the past into the south Pacific from bomber bases in the Russian Far East, which is thousands of miles away and over water.
- In August 2012, Gertz reported that a Russian nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarine armed with long-range cruise missiles operated undetected in the Gulf of Mexico for several weeks and its travel in strategic U.S. waters was only confirmed after it left the region. The Navy is in charge of detecting submarines, especially those that sail near U.S. nuclear missile submarines, and uses undersea sensors and satellites to locate and track them. U.S. officials said the fact that the Akula stealth submarine was not detected in the Gulf is cause for concern, as well as exposes deficiencies in U.S. anti-submarine warfare capabilities—forces that are facing cuts under the Obama administration’s plan to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.
- On July 4, 2012, Russian bomber flights near the U.S. West Coast were the first time since the Cold War that Russian jets has traveled so close to the U.S. coastline.