Russian Bombers Fly 50 Miles off California. F-22s and F-15s intercept them.

Four Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear were intercepted by F-22s near Alaska. Two of the strategic bombers came within 50 miles from California Coast.

As we reported few days ago, a U.S. Air Force RC-135U performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia on Apr. 23, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker.

Just in case you though only U.S. (spy)planes fly in the vicinity of the Russian airspace, the Washington Free Beacon unveiled that U.S. fighter planes were scrambled to intercept four Tu-95 Bear H bombers, two of those came within 50 miles of California coast.

Two USAF F-22 Raptor stealth jets, most probably from 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson intercepted the “intruders”, that were seemingly conducting a training attack run, over the Aleutians.

Then, two of the four Tu-95s headed back home, whereas the remaining two flew off Northern California, triggering another alert scramble by NORAD (North America Aerospace Defense Command) that dispatched two F-15s to intercept and shadow the Russians.

According to the defense officials who talked to the Free Beacon, the bombers were supported on their (typical) long range mission by two IL-78 tankers .

Even if such close encounters are quite normal across the world, we can’t but notice that they have become at least more frequent in the last couple of years.

For sure Russia’s annexation of Crimea and growing tension between Washington and Moscow have given headlines like “Tu-95s flying close to Guam“, “Su-27s performing reckless interception of U.S. spyplanes“, “B-52s and B-2s temporarily deployed to the UK” and so on, a completely new meaning.

Top: File Photo of F-22 intercepting Tu-95 (U.S. Air Force)

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. F-22 with external fuel tanks? Can anyone elaborate as to why they’d be carrying them on intercepts?

    • Because intercepts usually require reheat. The bombers don’t fly over US territory, so you have to go quite a long ways just to reach them from US bases.

    • it’s pretty obvious, so they can reach the target and escort it for a longer period of time

    • probably range and an increased time-on-station….and no need to be stealthy when you’re trying to send a message to your interloper

    • If stealth is not a requirement and to ensure longer time on station external tanks make sense. Since this was an ACA mission where they are to intercept, investigate, identify and escort a zombie, a stealth profile would not be required.

    • Because radar would have picked up any escorting fighters. Since there was none, maneuverability and stealth was probably deemed less necessary than increased range.

    • It’s probably just the picture for show, but I’m guessing they would punch the tanks if they needed to

    • Because Alaska is really big and they don’t have many runways an F-22 can land on.

    • To hide its actual RCS?
      Probably the Bear has nice radars tryng to pick up the radar signature of the Raptor, hence, take this nice drop tanks to give you a different one…

    • 1) Longer Endurance
      2) Prevents Russian radar operators from “scanning” the F-22’s with radar in order to determine their RCS

    • Well, the text said they were conducting a training attack run… Perhaps it was a long range attack? As far as I know, the range of the F-22 isn’t all that great.

    • Why show full signature to the others. We all know the intercept was procedural so the planes don’t need to be ready for the worst

    • That is an old picture. New pictures of the recent interception have not been relased yet. The one used in this article was from Thanksgiving 2007. It’s currently unknown if the Raptors used external drop tanks in the June intercept.

    • Thats an old picture that was taken off the coast of alaska about 5 or so years ago. Wr always fly woth tanks to intercept. If they need to disappear then we just drop the tanks.

    • Alex, we use them for long distance flying. That’s an extra 1200 Gal of fuel for the jet. Otherwise it would have to rely on tanker support, or it would have to land to refuel. They can easily be punched off for combat.

    • The extra hour of flight time. We have tankers, but it wouldn’t make sence to have to use them every 45min.

    • Because this is a real world scenario
      it has limited range so it should carry external fuel tanks
      and no stealthy thing because of that

    • The F-22 is a small plane at 19 meters in length. Thus, the combat radius of an F-22 is only about 500 miles. The drop tanks double the F-22’s combat radius to about 1,000 miles.

      Since the Russian bombers have plenty of fuel to fly along the Californian coast, the F-22 needs extra fuel to shadow the Russian bombers on a long flight.

    • What does flying well off the coast of another nation have anything to do with being “scared”? Both sides have been routinely doing it for 60+ years..

      • Yes, yes they have. The Russians ‘cooled off’ for a while after 9/11 because, well, everyone did. But this is pretty normal… If you follow Russian air reconnaissance, you know that the Russians spend an inordinate amount of time shadowing our west coast just barely in international airspace.

        And for those who, like CC below, believe that the Russians stopped this after they switched from being Soviet to being Russian (again), I will tell you that there is plenty of evidence to indicate otherwise.

    • Indeed they are still laughing since Mr. Bush jr. – squeezed in a G-suite – said “mission accomplished”…

    • Damn, because everyone in the world should fear the American World Police amirite?

  2. Anyone know if the F-15s that were scrambled were from the 142nd Fighter Wing or the 173rd Fighter Wing? Thanks.

    • The OR ANG’s 172rd FW (Klamath Falls) is the F-15 RTU and is not a combat coded wing, probably the 142nd out of Portland as they have an ACA mission.

  3. Russia is sizing us up. Testing our response time and exploiting our many weaknesses. Since Pres. Clinton took office the inner invaders that be and call em as you will have slowly dismantled our military of all branches. Including the war being waged on our vets. All the nuke treaties we signed have been rigged to where our deterrent gets smaller and what we do have stays the same when it comes to upgrades. The current Commie N Chief wants to cut our nukes even more and reduce the military to that of PRE WORLD WAR II status.Meanwhile Russia and China even more so and now allied are more than a match for our depleted and stretched way too thin military (All Branches)
    Russia has quietly rebuilt herself, no reincarnated herself to USSR status.
    China has always been sizing us up from the get go. Never liked us. Never will.

    Russia’s been sizing us up not just because she’s been refurbished but because they’re not stupid. Missile Shield my ass.
    I’m a proud American, but we used to have smarter leaders and last time Russia wanted to sport their “missile Shield” in our “back yard” we had a President that was ready to go balls 2 the wall and wage thermonuclear war and our president did not blink.
    Mark my words. Russia changed their military doctrine to include a preemptive nuclear strike especially if she thought it was being encircled by just conventional weaponry and forces.

    Russia and China are going to strike and if you remember the surprise and still yet to be explained submarine missile launch just off the California coast back in November 2010….we’re not going to know what hit us.

    I pray to Father God I’m wrong.

    God bless U.S. all and keep us safe.
    Especially from ourselves.
    James H-town Patriot

    • Maybe you should have tried to make them (rus and china) your allies or “friends” or tie up some stronger diplomatic, economics, industrial (or whatsoever) bonds instead of considering them as enemies and constant threats…since the end of the Cold War you had some 20 years to do so…

    • I wonder whether the defence cuts and so on were actually part of anyone’s plan. I find it more likely that the defence industry overpromised and underdelivered – and that the DoD and the Pentagon accepted this, under the assumption that it was in the interest of the industry and the people’s jobs not to pressure the defence companies too much. For money and votes, essentially.

      The US still has all the nukes it needs to reduce all major Russian or Chineese cities to ashes, and to kill millions upon millions of citizens in the process, so I doubt the treaties did much to reduce deterrence. Rather, I think, this bomber fly-by is a response to all the US deployments in Europe. You scare us, we scare you. Hopefully it raises the question of whether this is really a situation that is in anyone’s interest.

      I don’t think Russia really wants to stick it to the US again. As you said, they aren’t stupid, and they should know they can’t win this. But it must seem to them that the US is relentless in wanting to spread its influence. They pride themselves in being free from US influence, and they will go far to maintain that position. Perhaps China has a similar view, that I don’t really know. But indeed, they seem to be more comfortable with Russia than with the US, as far as politics go anyway.

      As for the november 2010 event, as far as I know it was never confirmed to be a sub missile launch. It was generally doubted to be a missile as the object wasn’t actually increasing in speed. And in all fairness, to launch a missile that close to the US without warning would probably be about the most dangerous and stupid thing a nation could do. All hell would have broken loose…

    • First off, showing a little respect for the President rather than resorting to juvenile name calling is always a good first step.
      Secondly, how many nukes do you think we need? One in every backyard in America?
      I am not sure if you realize but we have enough nukes on Subs, Land, Air to turn this planet into a fireball about 40 times over.
      I think some of your venom and hatred should be aimed at the military contractors and their respective state reps/lobbiest who try to force big budget cold war programs on a President and his military advisors when we obviously don’t need them. As far as I can tell the move to a smaller military focused on Special Ops and mobile rapid reaction forces with the best equipment is the RIGHT way to spend money. If we are not doing that to the extent we should then this should change.
      Thirdly, if you are referring to President Kennedy my understanding is that Nikita K did blink due to the line in the water Kennedy drew but only later the President of Russia decided to change his entire countries escalation strategy due to a switch in perception of Kennedy’s desire to engage in human discussions of fairness and life rather than military escalation. Russia decided it would be best to switch to economic competition rather than only Militarily. This was accomplished due to common ground and discussion and resulted in the air ban test treaties.
      If you are referring to President Regan he basically spent the Soviets dry, not sure if that was a strategy or just economic luck.
      I think Putin want respect and this is similar to what was happening in the early 60’s.
      China is a capitalist country as far as I am concerned and unless they don’t get paid, I can’t imagine them cutting their own necks.
      Tough world out there but as history shows Saber rattling is not the only way to go.

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