U.S. jet fighters intercepted three formations of Russian aircraft Thursday night that had entered airspace in three areas off Alaska.
Officials with the North American Aerospace Defense Command say U.S. F-22 fighters and KC-135 air-refueling tankers intercepted the groups of Russian aircraft that had entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone.
A NORAD spokesperson declined Friday to identify where the U.S. aircraft were based. But the spokesperson said the Russian formations approached Alaska from three directions: the north, west and the southwest, off the Aleutian Islands.
Each of the formations consisted of two Tu-142s, which are maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare planes.
NORAD officials said in messages posted Friday morning to the NORAD website that the Russian aircraft loitered in the aircraft identification zone for about five hours. The aircraft came within 50 miles of Alaska’s coast, but none entered U.S. or Canadian airspace, according to the posts.
NORAD Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck said in the posts that NORAD has conducted more than a dozen intercepts so far this year. He says that’s more intercepts than NORAD has conducted in recent years.
“Our northern approaches have had an increase in foreign military activity as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and probe our defenses,” said VanHerck said in a prepared statement issued by NORAD Friday.
Thursday’s intercepts were the first reported since June, when two Russian Tu-95 bomber formations entered the aircraft identification zone and came within 32 nautical miles of Alaska. In March, three pairs of Russian Tu-142s entered the aircraft identification zone over the course of a week. All were intercepted with fighters and air tankers that accompanied the Russian planes until they left the aircraft identification zone.
In his statement, VanHerck said, “The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more apparent.”