Practice runs are latest Cold War-like provocation from Putin
The remaining two nuclear-capable bombers then flew southeast and around 9:30 p.m. entered the U.S. northern air defense zone off the coast of Northern California.
Two U.S. F-15 jets were deployed and intercepted the bombers as they eventually flew within 50 miles of the coast before turning around and heading west.
A defense official said the four bombers also were supported by two IL-78 aerial refueling tankers that were used for midair refueling during the operation this week.
The Tu-95 is a long-range strike aircraft capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles. Other versions are equipped with intelligence-gathering sensors and electronic warfare gear. It has a range of around 9,400 miles without refueling.
Capt. Davis said the aircraft “acted professionally,” and the bombers appeared to be conducting a training mission.
“They typically do long-range aviation training in the summer, and it is not unusual for them to be more active during this time,” he said. “We assess this was part of training. And they did not enter territorial airspace.”
The bomber incursion is the latest Russian nuclear saber-rattling amid stepped-up tensions over Moscow’s military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the Russian flights “intentional provocations.”
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is doing this specifically to try to taunt the U.S. and exercise, at least in the reported world, some sort of saber-rattling, muscle-flexing kind of nonsense,” Mr. Conaway said in an interview. “Truth of the matter is we would have squashed either one of those [bombers] like baby seals.
“It’s a provocation, and it’s unnecessary. But it fits in with [Mr. Putin’s] macho kind of saber-rattling,” he said, adding that he expects Russia will carry out more of these kinds of incidents in the future.