Russia steps up bomber exercises near Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Russian warplane exercises around Alaska have become routine in the past few months, U.S. military officials said Monday, as the former Cold War superpower steps up flights from its Arctic bases.

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During the summer, Russian bombers have staged at least seven exercises in a buffer zone outside U.S. air space, each time alerting the U.S. through reports by Russian news agencies, said Maj. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

U.S. and Canadian fighter jets, usually F-15s, have been dispatched each time to escort the Russian planes in the exercises, which have ranged from two to six aircraft, Herritage said.

The latest exercise came Sept. 19 and involved two planes flying somewhere off the coast of Canada, Herritage said. They were met by Canadian planes from NORAD, which is jointly operated by the U.S. and Canadian militaries.

At least five exercises by the Russian Tu-95 Bear heavy bombers have taken place off Alaska's Aleutian Islands and other historic Cold War outposts, such as Cape Lisburne and St. Lawrence Island, according to NORAD records. All occurred beyond the 12-mile boundary that constitutes U.S. airspace.

"They used to have them from time to time, but not nearly in this frequency," Herritage said. "These exercises used to be more common during the Cold War."

The exercises come amid troubled relations between Russia and the West and are seen by some as intimidating moves by an increasingly assertive Russia, but Herritage said the exercises are not a cause for alarm.

"The recent exercises appear to be routine training activities," he told The Associated Press. "They are nowhere near U.S. airspace."

President Vladimir Putin announced in August that Russia was resuming long-range bomber flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Russian Air Force officials in Moscow could not be reached for comment after hours. They have repeatedly said that the planes were not violating any nation's airspace or any international agreements.

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