North American Aerospace Defense Command has reported that U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and Canadian CF-18s intercepted two Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft north of Alaska on March 9.
“NORAD F-22s, CF-18s, supported by KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, intercepted two Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on Monday, March 9th,” the service message states.
The Raptors and Canadian CF-18 fighters, which were supported by an E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, escorted the Russian maritime patrol version of the Tu-95 bomber for four hours as they flew in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone.
The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace over the Beaufort Sea, and came as close as 50 nautical miles to the Alaskan coast. The Russian aircraft did not enter the United States or Canadian sovereign airspace.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett highlighted the strategic importance of the Arctic region in her keynote address at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium last month.
“As in space, America is resolute in defending and protecting international norms of access and navigation as Arctic resources and sea routes gain importance,” Barrett said, calling the Arctic a “central mission” for USAF.
O’Shaughnessy echoed those comments days later in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting Russian heavy bombers conducted 48 air patrols in 2019, several of which were intercepted by NORAD fighters near the U.S.
“The Arctic is the new frontline of our homeland defense,” wrote O’Shaughnessy in prepared testimony. “Russia has steadily expanded its military presence in the region” and “has left us with no choice but to improve our homeland defense capability and capacity.”