The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed Tuesday that two Russian TU-95 bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska on Monday evening.
According to a U.S. official, the intercept occurred 100 nautical miles south of Kodiak Island. The Russian aircraft were in international airspace throughout the encounter as American airspace extends 12 nautical miles from the U.S. shoreline.
However, NORAD confirmed to ABC News that the Russian planes were in the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which stretches 200 miles out from shore. An Air Defense Identification Zone is airspace that is monitored in the interest of national security where aircraft are required to identify themselves.
Two F-22 fighter jets and one E-3 Sentry reconnaissance plane from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska intercepted the Russian bombers for a short time, then flew alongside the bombers as they turned away from the ADIZ, the official said.
This is the first time that Russian aircraft have approached North America in some time. NORAD has no records of intercepts of Russian aircraft in all of 2016, and the previous intercept dates all the way back to the summer of 2015.
US military officials downplayed the mid-air interaction as “nothing out of the ordinary” and “not dissimilar from what we’ve seen in the past with respect to Russian long-range aviation.”
But Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the Russians were “trying to show their teeth” by flying so close to the US coastline amid tensions between the two nations.
“This was a show of force by the Russians to show us that they are still here,” Kinzinger said. It was “an attempt to come up as close as they could to our international borders to see what our reaction would be.”
President Donald Trump has recently adopted a more skeptical view on the possibility of improving relations with the Kremlin, a position he once advanced as a candidate.
“Right now we are not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia,” Trump said at a White House news conference last week.
The U.S. Air Force’s high-speed stealth fighter
The US NORAD jets that conducted the intercept were stealthy F-22s — a fighter that became operational in 2005 but only saw its first combat in attacks on ISIS positions in Syria in late 2014.
“The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft,” said the Air Force’s fact sheet for the Raptor, each of which costs about $143 million.
US jets also intercepted of Russian aircraft off the coast of California in July 2015.
That episode involved Russian long-range bombers and included cockpit-to-cockpit communication in which the Russian pilots relayed a message to the Americans: “Good morning, American pilots. We are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day.”
Monday’s intercept is the latest of several recent encounters involving the Russian military. The Viktor Leonov, a Russian spy ship, has been spotted near the US coastline twice in recent months.
In February, the USS Porter was sailing in the Black Sea when it had three encounters with Russian aircraft. (abcnew)