Russian maritime reconnaissance aircraft are really interested in an ongoing U.S. submarine exercise near Alaska known as ICEX — the spy planes have been intercepted three times this week by U.S. and Canadian aircraft, according to the U.S. military.
On Saturday, North American Aerospace Defense Command said F-22s, KC-135 Stratotankers and E-3 Sentry aircraft intercepted two pairs of Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft near Alaska.
NORAD said the Russian aircraft came within 45 nautical miles of Alaskan coast over the Beaufort Sea but never entered U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace.
The Russian recon planes entered the west and north of Alaska with the western pair of spy planes flying within the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone for four hours. The recon planes loitered around the ICEX submarine exercise followed by F-22s.
NORAD said the northern pair of Russian planes remained in the ADIZ for 15 minutes with F-22s on their wing.
“This is the second and third time this week that incursions into our air defense identification zones were met and escorted by NORAD fighters,” Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD commander, said in a release.
“We continue to see repeated Russian military aviation activity in the Arctic and we will defend the U.S. and Canada against these threats emanating from our northern approaches," O’Shaughnessy said.
On March 9, a pair of Russian recon aircraft were intercepted by NORAD while spying on the ICEX sub exercises. Those aircraft came within 50 nautical miles of the Alaskan coast.
O’Shaughnessy told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday the Russian aircraft loitered about 2,500 feet above a camp that was built for the submarine exercise known as Camp Seadragon. He said the Russian aircraft “loitered” with an F-22 and and F-18 on their wing.
ICEX is a three-week biennial exercise that allows the U.S. to assess the readiness of its submarines to operate in the Arctic.
Two submarines, the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine Connecticut and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine Toledo, are participating in this year’s ICEX.
ICEX officially kicked off March 4 following the creation of Seadragon. The camp is built on a multi-year ice floe in the Arctic and supports people participating in the exercise and serves as a temporary command post for the exercise.
ICEX 2020 is the 96th iteration of the training event.
“The Arctic is a potential strategic corridor between Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the U.S. homeland for expanded competition," Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of Submarine Forces, said in a news release.
"The Submarine Force must maintain readiness by exercising in Arctic conditions to ensure they can protect national security interests and maintain favorable balances of power in the Indo-Pacific and Europe if called upon,” Caudle said in the release.
O’Shaughnessy told lawmakers the intercept of the Russian aircraft highlighted a need to maintain the “ability to react appropriately” by having “persistent defense” and domain awareness to potentially defeat the threat.
That means knowing what’s coming in or near U.S. and allied sovereign airspace and having the ability to react to that threat — not just deploying forces to the region when they need to get up there, O’Shaughnessy said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.