Eielson-based F-16s intercept 2 Russian bombers near Alaska

an Eielson Air Force Base F-16
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 354th Fighter Wing takes off Oct. 15, 2014, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, during Red Flag-Alaska 15-1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Peter Reft)

Two Eielson Air Force Base F-16 fighter jets intercepted a pair of Russian bombers in international airspace off Alaska earlier this week.

The two F-16s detected, tracked, identified and intercepted the Tu-95 Bear bombers on Tuesday after they flew into the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. That’s international airspace, so the F-16s accompanied the Cold-War-era bombers as they transited the air-defense ID zone.

The F-16s were assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. But a NORAD spokesperson says the jets usually are otherwise assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron under Eielson’s 354th Fighter Wing.

It’s not unusual for Russian aircraft to enter the Alaska air-defense ID zone and be intercepted by Alaska-based aircraft. But most recent intercepts have conducted by F-22 Raptor fighters out of Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.

an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian bomber
A JBER-based F-22 accompanies a Russian Tu-95H bomber in the Alaska Air Defense Identification zone in September 2018. On Tuesday, two Eielson-based F-16s intercepted two Tu-95Hs in the Alaska Air Defense ID zone. (From DVIDS)

The NORAD spokesperson cited operational security in declining to comment about where the Bear bomber entered the Alaskan Air Defense ID Zone or why the Eielson-based jets were scrambled to intercept it. But the spokesperson said in an e-mail Wednesday that “the NORAD mission has historically been supported by a combination of 4th and 5th generation aircraft across the Continental, Alaskan and Canadian NORAD regions.”

The F-16 is a so-called fourth-generation fighter jet, which preceded more-sophisticated fifth-generation aircraft like JBER’s F-22s and Eielson’s F-35 Lightning IIs.

Defense blog The War Zone speculated that the deployment earlier this year to Poland of 12 F-22s from JBER’s 90th Fighter Squadron, sent to bolster NATO air defenses during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could be a factor in the decision to use F-16s for Tuesday’s intercept.

The spokesperson said NORAD uses different aircraft to support the Alaskan region, because that “allows us to demonstrate our resilient and flexible forces capable of operating in Arctic conditions.”

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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