U.S. F-22 Stealth fighters intercepted two Russian IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft flying just north of the Aleutian Islands, according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command release.
This is the latest of several incursions by Russian military planes, the last occurring on March 9.
“This is the latest of several occasions in the past month in which we have intercepted Russian aircraft operating near Alaska and the approaches to our nations,” USAF Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, leader of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, said in the release. “We are and will continue executing our no-fail homeland defense missions with the same capability and capacity we always bring to the fight.”
The April 8 intercept follows other similar incidents, including the March 9 intercept of two Russian Tu-142s north of Alaska by USAF F-22s and Canadian CF-18s. In that incident, Russia was learning about U.S. operations since a submarine was operating in the area, and it shows that NORAD needs to be ready.
O’Shaughnessy told Congress about what the Russians appeared to be up to.
“We have to understand what’s operating in the approaches to our sovereign airspace and territory, as well as within the confines of our sovereign territory,” O’Shaughnessy told lawmakers on March 11. “… They were learning about 2,500 feet above [the submarine]. They were learning with an F-22 and an F-18 on their wing when they did that. So, we have to maintain the ability to be able to react appropriately, not just for a strategic messaging type event here, but potentially in the future to actually defeat any threats.”
The general said about the April 8 incident, “They wanted to see if we are able to react.”
The IL-38 is an aging, cold war relic that has been upgraded with sophisticated electronics and surveillance equipment. It wasn’t a threat, but it makes us nervous if any Russian military aircraft penetrates the Alaskan Air Defense Zone.
The Russians have been very aggressive in probing U.S. air defenses in recent months. They have also buzzed U.S. warships in international waters several times recently. While both sides carry out such “strategic messaging,” the Russians do it far more often.
Playing chicken with the most deadly aircraft on the planet doesn’t seem very smart.