A Russian bomber recently carried out simulated cruise missile attacks on U.S. missile defenses in Asia, raising new questions about Moscow’s goal in future U.S.-Russian defense talks.
According to U.S. officials, a Russian Tu-22M Backfire bomber on Feb. 26 simulated firing air-launched cruise missiles at an Aegis ship deployed near Japan as part of U.S. missile defenses.
A second mock attack was conducted Feb. 27 against a ground-based missile defense site in Japan that officials did not identify further.
The Pentagon operates an X-band missile defense radar on the northern tip of Japan that is designed to monitor North Korean missile launches and transmit the data to missile-firing ships.
The bomber targeting comes as Russia is building up forces in the Pacific by modernizing submarines and building a spy ship specifically for intelligence-gathering against U.S. missile defenses.
Officials said it was not clear why the Russians conducted the practice strikes. However, the simulations may indicate Moscow has targeted its offensive ballistic missiles on Japan or U.S. military bases in the region.
U.S. missile defenses in Asia currently are at a heightened alert status as a result of tensions with North Korea. The communist state has threatened to conduct nuclear missile attacks on the United States and South Korea.
The incidents were detected by U.S. intelligence-gathering systems in the region and reported recently inside the Pentagon.
“As a matter of policy we do not comment on matters of intelligence,” Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson said when asked about the Backfire bomber incident.
The Tu-22 bomber can carry up to three air-launched Kh-22 land attack cruise missiles. The bomber has a range of about 2,500 miles.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney said the Backfire targeting is troubling.
“Russia continues to conduct aggressive offensive missile training in the Pacific against U.S. and Allied Forces,” McInerney said.
“We should understand that they look at ‘reset’ differently than we do,” said the retired three-star general, who once commanded forces in Alaska. “They look at it as regaining their previous USSR position as a superpower while this administration is moving towards unilateral disarmament.”
The latest bomber encounter in Asia comes weeks before White House National Security adviser Thomas Donilon will visit Moscow in an effort to restart stalled missile defense talks with the Russians, who for the past four years have demanded legal restrictions on U.S. missile defenses in Europe.
Donilon is expected to seek a Russian return to the negotiating table after the Pentagon announced last month it is scrapping plans for a high-powered variant of the Navy’s SM-3 missile interceptor called the Block IIB. The cancellation was widely viewed as a concession to Russia. The Russians are opposed to placing interceptors in Europe and claim the missile will be used against Russian offensive missiles.