Russian bombers approach Alaska for second day in a row

Russian bombers flew near Alaska for the second time in two days Tuesday evening, a day after a pair of them were intercepted by Anchorage-based fighter jets.

Capt. Anastasia Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the Alaskan Command, said Tuesday's flights involved a pair of Tu-95 Bear bombers — the same type of Russian propeller-driven aircraft flown Monday.

Schmidt said Tuesday's bomber flight occurred during the late afternoon and approached the "west coast of Alaska."

"No fighters were launched; an E-3 (Sentry AWACS plane) was launched," Schmidt said. "Any time we detect an unidentified aircraft or something in the airspace, we base our reaction on what we deem as appropriate."

She declined to provide further detail on when and where the flight occurred, or the Alaskan Command's response to it, citing a need to protect operational security.

There wasn't any initial word on why Tuesday's approach didn't warrant an intercept response.

Schmidt said both Monday and Tuesday's flights were incursions of the Air Defense Identification Zone around Alaska, in which aircraft approaching the state from overseas are asked to identify themselves and state their intentions, rather than sovereign U.S. airspace within the 12-mile territorial limit extending from the Alaska landmass.

"At no time did Russian aircraft cross into our airspace," Schmidt said. "They were in international airspace the whole time."

The command wasn't aware Thursday morning of any word from Russian authorities on why the bombers had been sent.

Similar incidents involving Russian aircraft reached levels in 2015 not seen since the end of the Cold War, NORAD's commander told senators at the time. Since July 4 of that year, however, no Russian flights into airspace monitored near Alaska had occurred until Monday.

This week's flights, Schmidt said, have followed the same general pattern as other Russian aircraft making ADIZ incursions, although their frequency has varied.

"These particular flights are not dissimilar from out-of-area flights we've seen previously; these are very similar to what we've seen in years past," Schmidt said. "You can have one year where you have zero incidents, and you can have a year where you have 15 incidents."

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the Alaskan Command's head, said Tuesday that F-22 Raptor fighters were scrambled Monday from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to intercept the first pair of bombers about 100 miles southwest of Kodiak Island.

American and Russian pilots waved at each other, Wilsbach said, but didn't have any voice communications before the bombers turned around and headed back to Russia.