By Kyle Mizokami, popularmechanics.com
The bomber flight was a provocative glimpse at war war might look like.
A pair of Russian strategic heavy bombers recently flew near an important U.S. military base in the Aleutian islands chain. The bombers were intercepted by Alaska-based U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighters, but at no point entered U.S. airspace. The exercise may be an early part of, or training for, this month’s Vostok-2018 Russian military exercises.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the two Tu-95MS “Bear” bombers flew near the Shemya island in the Aleutian islands chain. Shemya is home to the Eareckson Air Station and the gigantic, 120-foot-tall Cobra Dane early warning radar.
The Tu-95 bomber first flew in 1952. Modernized versions fly today as the Tu-95MS cruise missile carrier. The Tu-95MS is basically similar to American B-52 bombers: an aging but reliable bomb truck that can also attack heavily defended targets with long-range cruise missiles. The Tu-95MS is so old it uses contra-rotating propellers instead of jet engines.
The flight near Shemya is particularly aggressive Russian move, as the Tu-95MS typically carries up to eight Kh-102 long-range cruise missiles. A nuclear-armed version of the Kh-101 missile used against ISIS targets in Syria, the Kh-102 is a subsonic, somewhat stealthy missile similar to the American Tomahawk with a range of 3,102 miles. In the event of a nuclear war, Tu-95s would likely attack Cobra Dane and the U.S. Ground Based Midcourse Defense missile system on mainland Alaska with Kh-102 cruise missiles.
According to NORAD the Russian bombers entered the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ. ADIZ are established by countries as locations where foreign aircraft can assume they will be tracked and questioned but are otherwise free to pass through. As the map above shows, the Alaska ADIZ actually butts right up against Russian airspace and covers most of the Bering Sea, making entering it less of a big deal than it sounds. The bombers did not enter U.S. airspace.
The bombers were accompanied on their trip by an Il-78 “Midas” aerial refueling aircraft. Later in the flight they were escorted by F-22 Raptor fighters from the Alaska-based 3rd Wing.