A routine close encounter between Russian bombers and American stealth interceptors in the Northern Pacific Ocean.
On Sept. 1, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers involved in “scheduled flights over the waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Bering and Okhotsk seas” and supported by at least one Il-78 Midas tanker were, at some stages, accompanied by U.S. Air Force F-22 fighters, Russian Defense Ministry told to journalists on Friday according to TASS news agency.
The two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were scrambled from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska to intercept and visually identify the two Bear bombers flying off Alaska, south of the Aleutian Islands and inside the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).
According to NORAD (that used a standard phrase to describe the episode), the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.
The ADIZ, is a special zone, that can extend well beyond a country’s territory where aircraft without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.
Such close encounters are quite frequent and may also involve fighters, as happened in 2017, when the Bears were escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and an A-50 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft. Anyway, this is the second time that Russian Bears pay a visit to the Alaskan ADIZ: on May 12, 2018, two F-22s were launched to perform a VID and escort two Tu-95 on a similar mission in the Northern Pacific.
It’s worth noticing that Raptors in peacetime QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors (clearly visible in the top image): this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars, exactly as any other QRA aircraft.
Top image: file photo an F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska takes off at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 3, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe)
Modern meets decrepit. But this has gone on for decades – these Russian Alaskan ADIZ penetration ops. No big deal, of little concern as – long as they stay 12nm away from our coastline.
Excuse me, but why are we using such a scarce and valuable resource—our few and expensive F-22s—to do this? We know the Russians aren’t going to start WWIII with a couple of aging 1950s-era prop-driven bombers. Why act as if they are? Send up a single plane and one with a very low operating cost. It doesn’t even have to be armed. And in addition to that, we and our similarly provoked European allies need to take steps that will put an end to this.
First, we need to find a far cheaper way to do these intercepts. Get their costs down, way down, only occasionally using our front-line aircraft to keep them confused. Make these incidents cost the Russians far more than they cost us.
Second, we need to impose a comparable pain on the Russians every time they do this. Perhaps for every one of these Russian flights we send two flights from Norway to Japan, dipping close enough to Russian territory to trigger multiple intercepts along the entire length of their northern border. Do it with the lowest possible cost to us but the highest possible cost to them.
Third, when the Russians engage in irresponsible behavior that puts our pilots at risk, we need to inflict pain. One good option would be to ground all Russian-registered aircraft in NATO countries and force them to endure a detailed, multi-day safety inspection. Link one irresponsible behavior to the other.
The good news is that we now have a president who might do just that.
With the recently announced modernization of the Tu-95MS/MS16 fleet to the new MSM standard, they will keep shadowing the U.S. coast and thus making Raptors busy for no less than next two decades. Definitely, these patrol flights are not about to be over any time soon, and that’s just good.