June 10 (UPI) -- U.S. fighter planes intercepted two waves of Russian bombers flying within eight miles of U.S. airspace near Alaska on Wednesday, officials said.
"North American Aerospace Defense Command F-22 Raptors, supported by KC-135 Stratotankers and E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, completed two intercepts of Russian Bomber formations entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone early this morning," the North American Aerospace Defense Command said Wednesday on Twitter.
"The Russian military aircraft remained in international airspace and at no time did they enter United States sovereign airspace."
The first Russian formation, of two Tu-95 bombers, two Su-35 fighter planes and an A-50 early warning and control aircraft, came within 20 nautical miles of the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, a 200-mile long coastline with U.S. territorial airspace beginning 12 miles from the coast.
The second included Tu-95 bombers and an A-50 plane, came within 32 nautical miles, NORAD said. The Russian planes were identified and intercepted as they flew closer to U.S. territory than in recent years. .
NORAD rarely provides the distances from U.S. airspace when intercepts occur, but Wednesday's actions were unusually close to U.S. territory, officials said.
Gen. Terrence O'Shaugnessey, NORAD commander, said after the incidents that "intercepting multiple Russian aircraft demonstrates NORAD forces' readiness and capability to defend the homelands."
"Flying air patrols protects the approaches to our nations and sends a clear message we continue executing our homeland defense missions with the same capability and capacity we always bring to the fight," he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the flights were part of an 11-hour mission over the Pacific Ocean.
"At certain stages of the route, Russian planes accompanied the US Air Force F-22 fighters," Russian officials said. "All flights of the Aerospace Forces of Russia are carried out in strict accordance with the International Rules for the Use of Airspace. In May of this year, the U.S. Air Force strategic bomber aircraft flew five times along the borders of the Russian Federation."
Several intercepts of Russian aircraft occurred off the Alaskan coast in 2019, and as recently as March 2020, U.S. and Canadian fighter planes intercepted two Russian reconnaissance planes near Alaska.