On Monday, U.S. military jets intercepted four Russian heavy bombers that flew close to Alaska, a key combatant command has acknowledged.
U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told the Washington Free Beacon that U.S. radar detected four Tu-95 Bear H bombers around 4:30 p.m. local time on Monday, when the nuclear-capable aircraft flew near the western Aleutian Islands. Two U.S. F-22 fighter planes were launched to intercept the Russian bombers.
The Russian aircraft -- thought to be conducting bombing drills -- traveled eastward, then two of the Tu-95 aircraft reversed course and flew towards Russia's far eastern territory. The other two bombers traveled southeast and, at approximately 9:30 p.m. local time, entered the U.S. northern air defense zone, flying as close as roughly 50 miles off the Northern California coast. Two U.S. F-15 fighter planes were then scrambled in response to intercept them.
“The last time we saw anything similar was two years ago on the Fourth of July,” Davis told the Beacon on Wednesday.
The strategic Tu-95 bomber can be equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and can fly as far as 9,400 miles.
Davis said the Russian bombers seemed to be carrying out a training exercise: "They typically do long-range aviation training in the summer and it is not unusual for them to be more active during this time," the Navy captain said. "They did not enter territorial airspace."
Still, the apparent bombing practice run comes amid a period of heightened East-West tensions over Russia's incursion into Ukraine. The United States in the last week temporarily deployed five long-range nuclear-capable bombers to Europe to conduct air maneuvers with NATO allies.
U.S. Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said Russia was deliberately trying to raise tensions.
"Putin is doing this specifically to try to taunt the U.S. and exercise ... some sort of saber-rattling, muscle-flexing kind of nonsense," the House Armed Services Committee member told the Beacon. "Truth of the matter is we would have squashed either one of those [bombers] like baby seals."
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), on Wednesday asserted that Moscow was in "material breach" of the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Washington Times reported.