Yesterday, the United States Air Force intercepted six Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska, but those jets aren’t the same planes Bering Strait residents have seen circling the skies the past few days.
KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter and Katie Kazmierski report:
The aircraft flying over the Seward Peninsula and Bering Strait region are part of a biennial military training exercise called Northern Edge, a joint exercise hosted by the U.S. Pacific Air Forces and involving all branches of the military.
According to a press video put out by U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Daniel J. Heires, the Northern Edge exercise is about being prepared for global conflict.
“For the first time in 40 years, global order is being challenged; [it’s] a very serious threat… the more we’re ready as a joint force, ready to respond to a crisis, the less likely our resolve will be tested. Northern Edge gives us the ability to hone that preparedness that will translate into our adversaries knowing that we’re ready to respond to a crisis.”
Heires says the exercise includes 250 aircraft: F-35 Bravos, AC-130s, and F/A-18s.
However, the U.S. fighter jets that intercepted six Russian aircraft over the neutral waters of the Bering and Chukotsk Seas were not a part of that exercise.
Captain Cameron Hillier is a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. He says that on Monday, NORAD detected planes coming from the north into the Air Defense Identification Zone.
According to a NORAD press release, American F-22 jets intercepted a total of six Russian planes in two separate incidents: four Tupolev Tu-95 bombers and two Su-35 fighters.
NORAD reported that “the Russian bombers and fighters remained in international airspace, and at no time did the aircraft enter United States or Canadian sovereign airspace.”
Captain Hillier would not confirm the exact locations of where the Russian planes were encountered or their route of travel, but sovereign airspace is defined at 12 nautical miles from the coastline. This means no Russian jets flew over mainland Alaska.
Alaskans can still expect to see U.S. military aircraft flying overhead as the Northern Edge training exercise runs through May 24.
Image at top: Northern Edge 2019 aerial refueling. Photo by Senior Airman Eric Fisher, Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs, used with permission.