By Bill Gertz
Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers entered the U.S. air defense zone near the Pacific coast on Wednesday and were met by U.S. interceptor jets, defense officials told the Free Beacon.
It was the second time Moscow dispatched nuclear-capable bombers into the 200-mile zone surrounding U.S. territory in the past two weeks.
An earlier intrusion by two Tu-95 Bear H bombers took place near Alaska as part of arctic war games that a Russian military spokesman said included simulated attacks on “enemy” air defenses and strategic facilities.
A defense official said the Pacific coast intrusion came close to the U.S. coast but did not enter the 12-mile area that the U.S. military considers sovereign airspace.
The bomber flights near the Pacific and earlier flights near Alaska appear to be signs Moscow is practicing the targeting of its long-range air-launched cruise missiles on two strategic missile defense sites, one at Fort Greely, Alaska and a second site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
In May, Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said during a Moscow conference that because missile defense systems are destabilizing, “A decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens.” The comments highlighted Russian opposition to planned deployments of U.S. missile defense interceptors and sensors in Europe.
The U.S. defense official called the latest Bear H incident near the U.S. West Coast “Putin’s Fourth of July Bear greeting to Obama.”
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former Alaska commander for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the latest Bear H intrusion appears to be Russian military testing.
“It’s becoming very obvious that Putin is testing Obama and his national security team,” McInerney told the Free Beacon. “These long-range aviation excursions are duplicating exercises I experienced during the height of the Cold War when I command the Alaska NORAD region.
McInerney said the Bear H flights are an effort by the Russians to challenge U.S. resolve, something he noted is “somewhat surprising as Obama is about to make a unilateral reduction of our nuclear forces as well as major reductions in our air defense forces.”
“Actions by Russia in Syria and Iran demonstrate that Cold War strategy may be resurrected,” he said.
“These are not good indications of future U.S. Russian relations.”
Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said the incident occurred July 4. He said the “out-of-area patrol by two Russian long range bombers … entered the outer [Air Defense Identification Zone]” and the bombers “were visually identified by NORAD fighters.”
Kirby said the bombers did not enter “sovereign airspace.” He declined to identify the specific distance the aircraft flew from the United States due to operational security concerns. He also declined to identify the types of aircraft used to intercept the bombers.
In last month’s intercept of two Russian Tu-95 bombers, U.S. F-15s and Canadian CF-18s were used. The most likely aircraft used in Wednesday’s intercept were U.S. F-15 jets based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
Kirby and U.S. Northern Command spokesmen, apparently in line with the Obama administration’s conciliatory reset policy toward Russia, sought to play down both bomber intrusions.
The Pentagon spokesman said the latest Pacific intrusion was “assessed as another training activity.”
Rather than using traditional military terminology common during the Cold War to describe the meeting of the violating bombers as an “intercept,” Kirby said that the bombers were “visually identified” by jets described only as joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) jets.