- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Air Force general charged with protecting the U.S. from an invasion said he expects additional incidents of Russian probing of American airspace as a result of the nation’s focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the Russian military has always been interested in gauging the U.S. response to their provocations.

“We expect to see continued activity. That’s why we’re always ready to respond,” Gen. O’Shaughnessy told reporters on Tuesday at the Pentagon.

On April 8, F-22 fighter jets assigned to NORAD intercepted a pair of Russian Ilyushin-38 patrol aircraft when they entered an area known as the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. They were first spotted flying over the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Islands. The U.S. fighters escorted them out of the area.

“We wanted to make it very clear - which we did by the way we intercepted them - that there are no vulnerabilities as a result of COVID-19,” Gen. O’Shaughnessy said. “We are postured and maintain the ability to respond at a moment’s notice.”

In the past week, Russian military aircraft twice intercepted U.S. Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance flying in international airspace in the Mediterranean area. On April 15, a Russian Su-35 flew inverted within 25 feet of the U.S. aircraft - exposing it to wake turbulence and jet exhaust, Department of Defense officials said.

“The unnecessary actions of the Russian Su-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardizing the safety and flight of both aircraft,” U.S. Navy officials said in a statement.

There doesn’t seem to be a spike in Russian activity solely as a result of COVID-19, Gen. O’Shaughnessy said.

“What we do see is, I think, a continuous effort for them,” he said. “It’s a continued effort on multiple fronts to potentially test for any vulnerabilities.”

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