- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

U.S warplanes intercepted several Russian fighters and bombers crossing into American airspace off Alaska’s western coastline late Monday, in the latest show of force by Moscow near the Arctic region.

A pair of F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, were deployed to intercept two Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that had flown into the U.S. air defense identification zone near Alaska, officials from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Tuesday.

Shortly after the first pair of F-22 fighters made contact with the Russian bombers, a second group of two Tu-95 bombers accompanied by a pair of Su-35 Sukhoi fighter jets entered the zone, command officials said in a statement. NORAD commanders sent additional two Raptor jets to help escort the entire contingent of Russian aircraft out of U.S. airspace, along with an E-3 AWACS surveillance plane to monitor the situation.

The entire incident took place roughly 200 miles west of U.S. territory.

Russian military officials acknowledged the incursion into U.S. airspace, saying the aircraft were conducting “scheduled sorties” in international airspace near the country’s borders. But that mission also included flights “along the western coast of Alaska and the northern coast of the Aleutian Islands,” according to a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense, posted online on Tuesday.

“At certain stages of the route, Russian aircraft were escorted by F-22 fighter jets of the [U.S. Air Force]. The total flight time exceeded 12 hours,” Russian officials added.

The Russian mission comes weeks before a major U.S. and NATO-led naval exercise, dubbed “Baltic Operations” is set to kick off in the waters of the North Atlantic in mid-June. The naval combat drill, which the largest of its kind in eastern Europe, will be led for the first time by the Navy’s newly recommissioned 2nd Fleet.

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