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Air National Guard detects, tracks Russian aircraft approaching Alaska

A U.S. F-22 fighter from JBER escorts a Russian Tu-95 bomber Thursday in the skies off Alaska. The bomber was one of five aircraft that transited international airspace

Incursion was the first in several months, observers say

Members of an Alaska Air National Guard unit at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson detected and tracked five Russian aircraft that flew near Alaska last week.
The Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing identified the Russian aircraft Thursday when they entered international airspace off Alaska.

A news release issued by the wing Monday says its Air Defense Squadron continued tracking the aircraft as they flew through the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, then relayed that information to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. Along with other partners, including two units at Eielson Air Force Base – the 168th Air Refueling Wing and 354th Fighter Wing.

A NORAD news release says the aircraft entered the identification zone at about 6 p.m. Thursday and left about 90 minutes later. The news release didn’t say from which direction the aircraft approached Alaska.

The Air National Guard’s news release says the 176th Air Defense Squadron’s surveillance and weapons teams identified the Russian aircraft, with help from the JBER-based 611th Air Operations Center. The Russian formation included an A-50, an AWACS-type reconnaissance and control plane; two Su-35 Flanker jet fighters and two Tu-95 Bear bombers.

Initial reports didn’t mention whether U.S. fighters were scrambled to escort the Russian aircraft through the identification zone. But a Friday news release from NORAD said U.S. aircraft responded and accompanied the Russian planes through the Alaska aircraft identification zone. The U.S. planes included F-22 Raptor jet fighters, an E-3 AWACS and KC-135 air tankers.

The news release says the Russian aircraft came within 30 miles of Alaska's coastline.

The Air Force scrambled U.S. aircraft more than a dozen times last year to intercept a total of more than 60 Russian planes that had entered the identification zone off Alaska and Canada.

Lt. Gen. David Crumm, who heads the Alaskan Command, said in April that number of Russian-aircraft intercepts in 2020 was the highest since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Observers say last week’s Russian aircraft incursion off Alaska was the first in several months.

Editor's note: This story has been revised with new information about the U.S. aircraft intercepting the Russian planes.