@Norad_Northcom photo of one of the two Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-95MS BEAR-H bombers (plus two Su-35 escorts) and one of the two F-22A Raptors that intercepted them west of mainland Alaska on September 11. pic.twitter.com/CfEbIZjUph
— Thomas Newdick (@CombatAir) September 13, 2018
Just days after the death of Senator John McCain, a Russian politician on Russian TV proclaimed: “The enemy is dead.”
This is reminiscent of the celebratory bravado from Putin after Trump won the electoral college. There was champagne and cheers all around. The impossible was achieved.
McCain was buried at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD on September 2, 2018. One day before he was laid to rest, something extraordinary happened. The event got little to no attention from cable news or mainstream media.
It was September 1, 2018. Two Russian TU-95 Bear bombers flew into airspace near our westernmost frontier. The event was significant. An alarm went up at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and two F-22s from Alaska “intercepted” the Russian aircraft. NORAD released a terse statement about the event (below), noting that, “At no time did the Russian bombers enter Canadian or United States sovereign airspace.”
What is chilling about this challenge by Russia is that it was repeated ten days later. On September 11, at about the same time the United States memorialized the tragedy of 9/11 at Shanksville, PA, the Russians flew within striking distance of the US into airspace west of Alaska. This time, there were two TU-95s accompanied by two Su-35 air combat escorts. Again, NORAD sprang into action. Again, America’s lethal F-22s were summoned. Again the long-range bombers and their escorts were diverted from the homeland.
The advance of enemy aircraft near our border is significant for a number of reasons.
First, both incidences coincide with historically patriotic dates in America: the passing of Senator McCain, the so-called “enemy” of Russia; and the solemn tribute to the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 and the thousands killed as a result of the airline attacks on the World Trade towers. These dates could not have been random. The Russian intrusions were in essence a slap in the face to Americans, not to mention Donald Trump.
But the appearance of Russian aircraft within striking distance of the United States has more worrisome overtones.
This is the first time in 19 years that Russian planes have intruded near the homeland.
In an online site carrying a detailed description of the TU-95s are two paragraphs that place the 2018 events in context.
Here are details of those events:
In late June 1999 two TU-95 Bear bombers flew within striking distance of the United States as part of Moscow’s largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The bombers were intercepted by four US F-15 fighters and a P-3 patrol plane near Iceland and escorted in a clockwise flight around the island.
On 16 September 1999 a pair of Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers were detected by the US Air Force headed toward the Alaska coast. U.S. fighter jets were sent to intercept the aircraft which had been caught on radar. Air Force officials said both bombers turned before crossing into US airspace and about 90 miles from the approaching fighters. The Soviet Union regularly tested U.S. air defenses by flying toward Alaska during the Cold War, but this was the first time the Air Force had documented it happening since March 1993. – Federation of American Scientists (FAS)
Lastly, and most importantly, the TU-95s (Bear-H) aren’t just any military aircraft. The Bear-H model, intercepted on 9-11, is a more contemporary design of a model first deployed during the 1950s Cold War era. The newer Bear-H began production in 1981. According to one source, “by 1988 BEAR H bombers were regularly observed simulating attacks against North America.”
The most significant design feature of this military craft reflects its purpose. It is capable of launching the Kh-55 [AS-15] air-launched cruise missile (ALCM).
NORAD scrambled its F-22s for good reason. The air-to-surface cruise missiles on those Russian bombers are armed with 50 kt nuclear warheads. With a range of 2200 km (less than 1400 mi.), they are not a threat to major American cities from those intercepted positions. Still, they could wreak havoc if directed at population centers or military installations within range.
There is an unnerving aspect to these fresh incursions after two decades of quietude. What’s the point? One could argue that these are more profound threats than Kim Jong-un launching missiles into the Sea of Japan.
We can only hope that the adults are in the room. Because the enemy is near.