NORAD intercepts six Russian bombers and fighter jets
On Monday, a busier than usual pattern of contrails in the blue skies above Nome was an indication that something out of the ordinary was going on aloft. On Tuesday, we got the answer to unusual air traffic. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, confirmed that they intercepted four Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers and two Su-35 fighters entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, ADIZ for short, on May 20. Two pairs of F-22s and an E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System from NORAD positively identified the Russian aircraft and responded. According to a statement from NORAD’s Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, two of the Russian bombers were intercepted by two F-22s, and a second group of bombers with Su-35 fighters was intercepted later by two additional F-22s, while the E-3 provided overall surveillance. The Russian bombers and fighters remained in international airspace and at no time did the aircraft enter United States sovereign airspace, the statement says.
Capt. Cameron Hillier with NORAD’s public affairs office told The Nome Nugget that one group of the Russian aircraft approached from south and went north, whereas the second group went from north to south. He declined to comment on the specifics where the Russian bombers were in relation to the Alaskan coastline. Hillier also declined to say which base the U.S. fighter jets responded from.
Busy contrail patterns were again seen above the Nome region on Tuesday, May 21, but Hillier could not say if more Russian bombers were detected.
Due to overcast skies, residents of Little Diomede or Wales have not heard or seen any unusual air traffic.
Initial requests for information from the Nugget at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, JBER for short, were met with no knowledge of the Russian bombers. When asked about the unusual air traffic, a spokesperson at JBER Community Engagement wrote in an email, “It was most likely our F-22s on a routine training mission as both the exercise and normal operations continue. We have no reports of any activity other than normal operations.” The spokesperson also responded with a link to a joint training exercise named Northern Edge 2019 that is taking place in May. According to press release from the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, about 10,000 U.S. military personnel are participating in the exercise on and above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska, May 13-24.
The exercise is one in a series that prepares joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Pacific. Personnel from U.S. military units stationed in the continental United States and from U.S. installations in the Indo-Pacific participate with 250 aircraft from all services and five U.S. Navy ships. For the first time in 10 years, a Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier is part of the exercise.
Nome’s Interim City Manager confirmed that the city was not informed of Northern Edge, which is billed as the largest military exercise scheduled in Alaska this year.
According to its mission statement, NORAD is to prevent air attacks against North America, safeguard the sovereign airspaces of the United States and Canada by responding to unknown, unwanted and unauthorized air activity approaching and operating within these airspaces. NORAD is the Canadian and American command responsible for the air defense of North America and maritime warning. The Alaskan NORAD Region is based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, the Canadian NORAD Region at Winnepeg, Manitoba and the Continental NORAD Region is located at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
The last time NORAD had to respond to a Russian bomber was on January 26 of this year, when an E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System, two F-22 and two CF-18 fighter jets from NORAD positively identified two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone.