Russian Bombers Flew Within 40 Miles of N. California Coast
Two Russian nuclear bombers flew within 40 miles of the California coast and one of the pilots relayed a veiled threat during the Fourth of July aerial incident, defense officials said.
“Good morning American pilots, we are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day,” a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber crew member stated over the emergency aircraft channel.
Meanwhile, Russia’s across-the-board buildup of nuclear forces and revised doctrine are increasing the danger of a nuclear war, according to a think tank report on nuclear threats.
Defense officials and the Colorado-based U.S. Northern Command said this week that two U.S. F-15 jets intercepted the Russian bombers on July 4 as they flew as close as 39 miles from the coast of Mendocino County, north of San Francisco.
During the intercept, a crew member on one of the bombers issued a warning in a radio message, according to defense officials familiar with the incident this week.
Earlier the same day, the Bear bombers intruded on the U.S. air defense identification zone (ADIZ) near Alaska. The zone is a 200-mile controlled airspace patrolled by U.S. and Canadian jets under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
It was the second time the Russians conducted provocative bomber flights on the Fourth of July holiday. The last incident occurred on July 4, 2012, when two Bear bombers were intercepted off the California coast in what was then the closest such encounter near sovereign U.S. air space since the end of the Cold War.
A NORAD spokesman declined to comment on the exact distance from the coast the bombers had flown.
Two officials confirmed that the nature of the message from the Russian aircraft was a sardonic Independence Day greeting.
One official said the nuclear-capable bomber flights so close to U.S. shores are part of nuclear saber-rattling by Moscow, and much more of a concern than routine U.S. aerial surveillance missions near Russia’s coasts.
“These are nuclear-capable bombers and that is a big problem,” the official said.
A second official said the buzzing of the California coast coincided with a telephone call made that day from Russian President Putin to President Obama. The Russian leader called for more U.S.-Russia dialogue, Reuters reported.
NORAD said in a statement the Russian bomber flights were “potentially destabilizing.”
In the Alaska encounter earlier in the day, two U.S. F-22 fighters intercepted the Bear bombers along the south coast of Alaska near the Aleutian Islands around 10:30 A.M. eastern time.
The California bomber-fighter intercepts took place a half hour later as the propeller-powered aircraft moved south along the North American coast.
“Even though state aircraft are not required to file flight plans for flying through an ADIZ, such unannounced operations by Russian strategic bombers near the U.S. and Canada are potentially destabilizing,” a spokesman for NORAD said.
Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon nuclear forces expert, said such Russian bomber incursions are part of nuclear coercion by Moscow.
“The pattern of Russian provocative bomber flights is dangerous because it reflects a Russian view that nuclear attack threats can and should be used to get their way on whatever they are attempting to achieve,” he said.
Russia’s state-run Sputnik news reported Tuesday that despite its age, the Tu-95 is giving rise to fear in the NATO alliance because it “is capable of striking the United States with nuclear bombs.”
The report on nuclear threats, “Foreign Nuclear Developments: The Gathering Storm,” warns that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are substantially increasing nuclear weapons and delivery systems at a time when the United States is reducing its reliance on nuclear forces.
The report singles out Russia’s buildup of new missiles, bombers, and submarines, combined with aggression in Ukraine and its leaders’ public nuclear threats, as especially alarming.
Russia’s new military doctrine, unveiled in December 2014, states Moscow will use nuclear arms if attacked with either nuclear or conventional weapons.
The new doctrine has resulted in substantial increases in spending on new weapons, two new types of ICBMs—the Topol-M Variant 2 and the Yars—a new multi-warhead submarine missile called Bulava-30, a new class of missile submarines known as the Borey-class, upgrades for older bombers, and a new long-range strategic cruise missile called the Raduga.
The Raduga is viewed by U.S. military officials as a new strategic threat to the U.S. homeland.
“While many in the West believe that the end of the Cold War has meant the end of a confrontational and adversarial relationship with Russia, recent events suggest this hoped-for outcome is more the result of wishful thinking than of a sober and realistic assessment of the current geostrategic environment,” the report says.
“Under these circumstances, the possibility that Russia may trigger events leading to their actual use of nuclear weapons cannot be dismissed out of hand.”
Putin was quoted in Russian state media saying Moscow was set to place its nuclear forces on alert during the March 2014 annexation of Crimea.
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