Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time in as many days, a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command told CNN on Friday.
The two most recent sightings occurred late Wednesday and on Thursday, with the first involving two IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft and the second involving two Tu-95 nuclear-capable Bear bombers.
Russian aircraft never entered US airspace but US F-22s and Canadian CF-18s jets were dispatched to perform an intercept during Thursday’s encounter, according to NORAD.
On Thursday, the bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage — significantly farther from the US coastline than two other encounters that occurred on Monday and Tuesday.
The Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone is a designated region of international airspace, primarily surrounding the US and Canada, that is meant as a buffer to allow for the identification of aircraft heading towards North America.
While these flights pose no real military threat, US defense officials are taking notice of the high frequency at which they’ve occurred this week.
There is “no other way to interpret this other than as strategic messaging,” one official told CNN.
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SOURCE: CNN, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne