On July 4th, 2015 two separate instances of Russian long-range bombers closing on U.S. airspace prompted interceptions by U.S. Air Force F-22 and F-15 fighter aircraft off the coasts of California and Alaska. The bombers, Tupolev TU-95 “Bear” bombers, were intercepted at 10:30 and 11 a.m. Eastern Time.
The bombers did not enter U.S. airspace, and an interception does not mean the destruction of the intercepted aircraft. Around the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama to wish him a happy Independence Day.
Expert trolling, Mr. Putin.
Russian bombers did the same thing on July 4, 2013.
In January of this year, two Russian nuclear-capable bombers found their way into air defense zones near Alaska, but were not intercepted. That same month, A Russian Bear bomber was intercepted in the English Channel, flying without its transponder (making it invisible to civilian aircraft) prompting the UK government to summon the Russian Ambassador. In February, Russian Bear bombers were intercepted by an RAF Typhoon near Cornwall, England. Russian media released a video of bomber interceptions from the Russian point of view, featuring British Typhoons, a French Mirage, and a German Eurofighter.
In May, two Russian Tupolev Tu-22Ms were intercepted by Swedish fighters over the Gulf of Finland, “provocatively close” to Swedish airspace. While Sweden is not a NATO ally, it is still in the Western sphere of influence, a sphere President Putin considers weak and decadent while Sweden and Finland are warming up to the idea of joining the alliance. This is the latest in a string of incidents between Russia and Sweden, the others occurring in March 2015 and September 2014. The Russians were similarly intercepted by Latvia, Norway, Turkey, and Portugal.
Displays of bomber capability are not uncommon, even from the U.S., which recently flew B-52 bombers from Nebraska to Australia and back to demonstrate the long range capability of the aircraft. What is uncommon is Russia’s constant provocation of approaching air defense zones.
In 2013, Canadian and American fighters scrambled to meet the Russians six times, with ten more sightings of Russian bombers in air defense zones. NATO says allied fighters scrambled more than 400 times in 2014 (100 times in the UK alone) to intercept Russian military planes. The U.S. Air Force reported 50 air-to-air intercepts by the U.S. since 2006.