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Sun, Aug 20, 2023

Russian Aircraft Breach Alaska ADIZ

Again …

Russian military aircraft, in furtherance of a protracted and worsening global trend of aerial belligerence, have again breached the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) off the coast of Alaska.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)—a joint U.S.-Canadian organization tasked with monitoring North American airspace and safeguarding the sovereign interests of both the United States and Canada—reported on 14 August that it had detected four Russian military aircraft of an unspecified type within the ADIZ and tracked such through the late hours of 13 August into the wee hours of 14 August—Alaska Daylight Time (Zulu -8).

NORAD set forth: “The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and did not enter American or Canadian airspace. … Russian activity in the Alaska ADIZ occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat.”

The organization further stated the Alaskan ADIZ begins “where sovereign airspace ends.”

While officially international airspace, all aircraft operating within the ADIZ are required to identify themselves in the interest of national security.

Broadly, an Air Defense Identification Zone is the airspace of a sovereign nation plus an additional wider area extending over land or water in which subject nation, for national-security purposes, attempts to locate, identify, and control civil aircraft. ADIZs are declared unilaterally and may extend beyond the controlling nation’s territory for purpose of affording additional response time to potentially hostile incoming aircraft. The ADIZ concept is neither defined in international treaties nor recognized by any international body.

The United States established the first ADIZ on 27 December 1950. To date such zones have been emulated by: Canada, India, Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, the People's Republic of China, South Korea, Taiwan, Sweden, Iceland, and Iran. Russia and North Korea maintain unofficial zones.

Notwithstanding NORAD’s assurances that “Russian activity in the Alaska ADIZ occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat,” 2023 has seen a marked increase in the frequency and audacity with which Russian pilots have violated U.S. airspace and antagonized U.S. aircraft.

In February 2023, United States Air Force F-16 fighter jets intercepted a pair of Tu-95s and an Su-35 that penetrated and operated briefly within the Alaskan ADIZ.

On 14 May 2023, USAF F-16 and F-22 fighters intercepted no fewer than six Russian aircraft operating within the boundaries of the Alaska ADIZ. The Russian planes included TU-95 Bear bombers, functionally obsolete 1950s-vintage, quad-turboprops; IL-78 aerial tankers; and Su-35 Flanker fighter jets—formidable, single-seat, twin-engine, supermaneuverable aircraft designed and built by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau.

Russia’s recent paroxysm of aerial saber-rattling has extended well beyond the Alaska ADIZ.

On 14 March 2023, a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet collided with an unarmed American MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in international waters over the Black Sea. The collision severely damaged the drone, occasioning its loss at sea some 75-miles southwest of the Crimean Peninsula.

The U.S. military called the incident “an unsafe and unprofessional intercept.” The United States routinely operates surveillance drones over the Black Sea, to include Surveillance, Intelligence, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions near Russian-occupied Crimea.

In describing the event, U.S. military sources stated a flight of two Russian Su-27s flew in front of and dumped fuel on the MQ-9 “several times” before one of the fighters—presumably inadvertently—struck the drone’s aft-facing propeller.

On 23 July 2023, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper operating over Syria was “severely damaged” by flares discharged by a Russian Su-35 (Flanker-E) fighter jet. Pentagon officials accused the Russian pilot of demonstrating a “blatant disregard for flight safety.”

In a 25 July statement, the USAF contended the Russian fighter had harassed the MQ-9 while the latter was carrying out a mission against the Islamic State.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East region, reported the Su-35 “deployed flares from a position directly overhead, with only a few meters of separation between aircraft."

The damage wrought upon the MQ-9 was primarily to its aft pusher-propeller, which remained sufficiently functional to see the UAV return to its point of origin and land without further incident.

While Russia was slow to address the instance comprehensively, Moscow hastened to accuse the U.S. and its allies of “violating Syria’s airspace.”

Responding to the occurrence, USAF head of Air Forces Central Lieutenant General Alex Grynkewich stated: “We call upon the Russian forces in Syria to put an immediate end to this reckless, unprovoked and unprofessional behavior.”

General Grynkewich set forth Russian fighter jets and drones had repeatedly “buzzed” U.S. bases in Syria, thereby intentionally violating protocols developed specifically to preclude unsanctioned conflict between U.S. and Russian forces.

U.S. Army Head of Central Command General Michael Kurilla opined incidents the likes of the Russian Su-35 pilot’s engagement of the MQ-9 risk “unintended escalation and miscalculation.”

To the subject of tracking foreign aircraft, NORAD has repeatedly stated it employs "a layered defense network" of satellites, ground-based and airborne radars, and fighter jets. According to the organization’s website, NORAD’s Alaskan region is capable of detecting "what goes on in and near North American airspace 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week."

That 2023 has seen U.S. aircraft harassed and U.S. sovereign airspace repeatedly violated—to include a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the majority of the North American continent between 28 January and 04 February 2023—belies NORAD’s claims of normalcy.

For years, U.S. military commanders have warned of increasing and increasingly aggressive activity by Russian military aircraft in the vicinity of U.S. interests.

In 2021, USAF Lieutenant General David Krum—Commander, Alaskan Command, United States Northern Command; Commander, Eleventh Air Force, Pacific Air Forces; and Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska—described the Russian presence off Alaska’s vast coastline—which extends from Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the north and northwest to the Bering Sea in the west and southwest to the North Pacific in the south—as “the highest activity we’ve had since the fall of the Soviet Union.”



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