US Air Force F-22 stealth fighters intercepted two sets of two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers, one of which was accompanied by two Su-35 fighter escorts, off the coast of Alaska on May 20, 2019, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced May 21, 2019, that Russian Tu-95MS bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, conducted an observation flight May 20, 2019, near the western coast of Alaska, adding that at certain points during the 12-hour flight the bombers and their escort fighters were shadowed by US F-22s, Russia’s state-run TASS News Agency reported.
It is unclear why the Russians sent so many bombers near US air defenses, and NORAD was unable to say whether the Russian bombers were armed. It is also unclear why such bombers were used at all, as observation is not the traditional role of the large, four-engine, propeller-powered bombers, which are essentially heavy cruise-missile platforms.
NORAD sent out four F-22s, two for each intercept, to intercept the Russian aircraft after they entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. An E-3 Sentry provided surveillance during the intercepts. The Russian bombers remained in international airspace, NORAD said in a statement.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of NORAD, said. “Our ability to deter and defeat threats to our citizens, vital infrastructure, and national institutions starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching US and Canadian airspace.”
The bomber flights May 20, 2019, came roughly two months after Russia accused the US of unnecessarily stirring up tensions between the countries by flying B-52H Stratofortress bombers near Russia for training with regional partners.
“Such actions by the United States do not lead to a strengthening of an atmosphere of security and stability in the region,” a Kremlin spokesman told reporters at the time.”On the contrary, they create additional tensions.”
The US military, however, stressed that the training missions, which included simulated bombing runs, were necessary to “deter adversaries and assure our allies and partners.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.