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NORAD sees more intercepts of Russian military aircraft near Alaska in 2020

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 9:54 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - U.S. military aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson intercepted their Russian counterparts 14 times last year.

“In doing those intercepts, we used over 60 of our aircraft to do those,” said Lt. Gen. David Krumm, the commander of the Alaskan Region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

He says last year’s number is about twice the usual encounters with the Russians.

“We’ve seen Russia resurrect up to 50 Soviet air bases in and around the Arctic,” Krumm said Friday. “They’re putting in aircraft, they’re putting in ships, they’re putting in land-based military units.”

The encounters take place in what’s known as the Air Defense Identification Zone.

“That is actually international air space. It’s outside the 12 nautical miles from land,” Krumm said, as he discussed the intercepts. “But we’ve established that as a buffer. We’ve let everyone know you need to comply with our procedures.”

NORAD leaders have said in the past the intercepts allow each military to study the other’s reaction times and responses. Each encounter ended peacefully.

Krumm said F-22′s from JBER are typically the first U.S. aircraft sent to intercept Russian aircraft. But, they aren’t the only ones.

“We have E-3 AWACS aircraft to help us with the intercepts, the surveillance,” Krumm said. “We have KC-135 tankers that provide the refueling we need.”

The aircraft don’t just come from Anchorage.

“We do use Eielson Air Force Base as the location we launch the KC-135 tankers from,” Krumm said.

He’s also considering using F-16′s from Eielson AFB on some intercept missions. That would give F-22 pilots more time to focus on training.

According to Krumm, the number of intercepts last year marked a seven-year high. It’s too early to tell if that trend will continue.

“We certainly have to do more in order to accomplish our mission,” Krumm said. “But that’s what we’re trained to do.”

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