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Sun, Oct 01, 2006

A Russian Tu-95 Bear Gets NORAD's Attention

Six US, Canadian Jets Intercept Bomber Off Alaska

In an eerie flashback to different times, NORAD fighters from the US and Canada tracked and joined on a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber cruising 15 miles off the coast of Alaska on Thursday.

The Russian war plane remained in recognized international airspace, but got close enough to the coast to get NORAD controllers' attention.

NORAD Commander Admiral Timothy Keating told the Denver Post, "We have a near-sacred responsibility to protect and defend the United States and Canada against any and all threats. We will not waver in this responsibility."

Ground controllers directed four US F-15 and two Canadian CF-18 fighters, all fully armed, to the area where the Russian bomber was operating. After tracking and intercepting the Bear, NORAD aircraft joined on it and US pilots snapped a few photos -- a frequent cold war activity for military pilots on both sides.

Canadian Armed Forces Captain Jennifer Faubert told Reuters, "This wasn't treated as a hostile. It was just being vigilant and letting them know that NORAD is alive and well."

Apparently the Russian air force is conducting training exercises in the region, not known at this time is how many aircraft are participating.

NORAD commanders have asked Russia to notify them before they start exercises that might require a close approach to US or Canadian borders.

An aerial maneuver such as a mid-air join up is risky enough when all the pilots involved know what the others are doing. Risks multiply rapidly if crews flying armed war planes aren't sure of an approaching war plane's intentions.

In the case of Thursday's incident, NORAD was probably aware of Russian training flights via media reports -- officials haven't said whether Russia's military notified NORAD directly.

Russian military aircraft cruising near US borders, and vice versa, was a common occurrence during the cold war.

The US maintained a fleet of observation aircraft during the cold war manned with language interpreters and electronic eavesdropping and monitoring equipment.

Those aircraft frequently flew close to the Russian coast provoking Russian air defense forces and recording their response. Military experts then analyzed the data collected from those flights to develop attack strategy and tactics.

There is no indication, however, that the Russian Bear intercepted Thursday was engaged in any activity beyond a military training exercise.

NORAD says an incident similar to Thursday's occurred in April of this year.

(Aero-News thanks the 12th Fighter Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force base for the photo... which is guaranteed to soon be wallpaper on a more than a few computers around here.)

FMI: www.norad.mil

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