American F-22 intercepts Russian Tu-95 bomber near Alaska

Jano le Roux

The top US commander in Alaska said Wednesday that Russian military flights across Alaska are taxing the US units that answer to them, but that they are managing the pressure well.

The head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Krumm, is the newest US military official to provide a warning regarding the flights, which have “increased significantly.”
American and Russian planes near Alaska.NORAD

“As a matter of fact, the highest activity we’ve had since the fall of the Soviet Union occurred last year,” Krumm said at an Air Force Association gathering. “So we’ve intercepted more airplanes in and around the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone than in a really, really long time.”

Although the ADIZ is not US airspace, US planes often intercept Russian planes that reach it. (Under the leadership of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Canadian planes also participate.)

“Last year, we intercepted over 60 planes in and about the Alaska ADIZ. We have an eye on a lot more than that “F-22 fighter jets, E-3 early warning and control planes, and KC-135 tankers are normally involved, according to Krumm.

“While there is a strain on our units, I will tell you that they’re managing it very, very effectively,” Krumm said. “The F-22 is the best air-dominance machine that we’ve got … and it is employed masterfully by our airmen.”

The intercepts come at a “some cost to readiness,” according to Krumm, but the units in Alaska have balanced it out with other demands.

“Quite frankly, it’s a good exercise for us as well,” Krumm said, “to be able to go across vast distances and execute interceptions in a timely, professional manner, and they do it with style.”

NORAD intercepted more Russian military flights — like bombers, anti-submarine fighters, and observation aircraft — across Alaska in 2020 than in every year after the end of the Cold War, according to Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, chief of US Northern Command and NORAD.

VanHerck told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “These efforts show both Russia’s military reach and how they rehearse potential strikes on our homeland,”

Those flights tend to be less regular in 2021, but VanHerck told Insider at a Defense Writers Group event in late March that the rise represents revived “peer competition,”

“The difference between the past and now is the intercepts are more complex — multi-access, multi-platform, and oftentimes they’ll enter the [ADIZ] and stay for hours,” VanHerck said.

The US military is increasing its involvement in the Arctic. In the European Arctic, US aircraft and warships are becoming more involved, often exercising with allies in areas near sensitive Russian military sites.

The Air Force is fielding 54 F-35s in Alaska, making it the territory with the largest concentration of “combat-coded, fifth-generation fighter aircraft.” (aside from the F-22).

Tallis informed reporters earlier this month that “In the Pacific Arctic, the US has moved to address the aerospace threat by the large concentration of [F-35s] in Alaska and a commitment to reinvest in shared early-warning assets with Canada.”

According to Joshua Tallis, a research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, the Army recently launched its own Arctic policy, which centered on Alaska, and the Navy is operating more in that field, but aerospace defense remains the region’s priority, as evidenced in part by plans to update NORAD’s detectors.

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