Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers carried out a fourth high-profile training flight last week, flying near South Korea, where large-scale war games are under way, and near Japan and the U.S. military bases on Okinawa.
It was the fourth time since June 2012 that Russian bombers have run up against U.S. and allied air defense zones in the Pacific.
Defense officials told Inside the Ring that two Tu-95 Bear-H nuclear-capable bombers, Russia’s main nuclear cruise-missile delivery vehicle, were detected Friday in the Pacific Command theater of operations coming from a base in Russia’s Far East.
A Japanese Embassy spokesman confirmed that two Tu-95s were intercepted by Japanese fighter jets on March 15. He did not elaborate.
Pacific Command spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. DeDe Halfhill declined to provide details of the flights or say whether any U.S. interceptor jets were sent aloft to follow the bombers. She instead referred questions to the Russian, Japanese and South Korean governments, even though she acknowledged that the incident took place within the command’s area of responsibility.
It could not be learned whether South Korean interceptor jets were scrambled to trail the bombers.
The latest Russian strategic bomber flights near Okinawa, where U.S. Marines are deployed, followed a Feb. 12 incursion around Guam, July 4 bomber flights near the California coast, and practice bomber sorties near Alaska in June.
The failure of the Pacific Command to discuss the incident appears to be part of a new Pentagon policy of refusing to answer reporters’ questions about troubling developments that might undermine the Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward both Russia and China. For example, Friday’s flights took place just over a month after two other Tu-95s flew around the U.S. Pacific island of Guam — a major hub for the U.S. military buildup in the region.
Earlier, a Pentagon spokeswoman referred a reporter to China’s communist government when asked about the country’s expanding nuclear forces, despite the Pentagon having a legal requirement to provide public information about those forces in its annual report to Congress on the Chinese military.
The Feb. 12 bomber flights were the first time the Russians had conducted such long-range strategic operations near Guam in more than 20 years. Yet, a military official described the bomber incursions as “routine.”
Guam was used by two U.S. B-52 strategic bombers for flights over South Korea on March 8 and March 15 as part of ongoing military exercises that Pentagon officials said demonstrated U.S. “extended deterrence” nuclear protection, in the face of growing nuclear threats from North Korea.
The earlier Russian bomber incident near California was also dismissed by military spokesmen as routine after two Bear H bombers on July 4 flew the closest to the U.S. West Coast that any Russian bomber had flown since the days of the Soviet Union.
Obama hit on missile defense
A senior member of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday wrote to President Obama, expressing concerns about the administration’s concessions to Russia on missile defense and revealing Moscow’s violations of current arms treaties.
“I am deeply concerned about your sudden shift in the U.S. missile defense strategy,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, stated in his letter to the president.