The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) scrambled fighter jets to intercept two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers off the coast of Alaska on August 8, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.
The two Russian Air Force bombers entered Alaskan and Canadian air defense identification zones approximately 320 kilometers off the Alaskan western coast. “The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace in the Beaufort Sea and at no time did the aircraft enter United States or Canadian sovereign airspace,” according to NORAD.
Two USAF Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and two RCAF CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, supported by a Boeing E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-130 tanker aircraft, conducted the scramble against the Russian bombers. NORAD released pictures of the fighter jets escorting the Russian aircraft.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), the two bombers were of the Tu-95MS variant and carried air-launched cruise missiles. The Tu-95MS is an upgraded version of the original Tu-95, a Soviet-era four-engine, long-range, turboprop, strategic bomber that can carry stand-off missiles including the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile or the Kh-55 subsonic air-launched cruise missile.
Both aircraft were part of a large-scale naval exercise, dubbed Ocean-Shield 2019, which has been taking place in the Baltic Sea since the beginning of August, the MoD said. According to the MoD, 69 ships of all variants, in addition to 58 aircraft, and over 10,000 military personnel are participating in Ocean-Shield 2019.
“Two Tu-95MS missile-carrying strategic bombers operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces have performed flights over the neutral waters of the Bering Sea as part of the Ocean Shield-2019 exercise,” the MoD statement reads. “The flight lasted for more than 10 hours.” The ministry also acknowledged that U.S. aircraft were escorting the bomber formation for a period of time.
The Russian military has stepped up its presence off the Alaskan coast in recent months.
This May, the USAF scrambled fighter jets to intercept two Tu-95MS strategic bomber formations, escorted by Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets, off the coast of Alaska on two separate days. In January, two Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers entered the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone. The USAF and RCAF scrambled fighter jets in response.
On August 1, two Tupolev Tu-142MZ maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft of the Russian Pacific Fleet entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), but did not violate U.S. or Canadian airspace. The aircraft were escorted by a pair of MiG-31BM fighter-interceptors for a part of their mission. The USAF did not scramble fighters and relied on NORAD’s early warning system radars for detection.