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Russian bombers near American airspace while conducting exercise

Saturday, September 30, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- American and Canadian fighter planes were launched to intercept a pair of Russian bombers after the bombers came close to Alaska while conducting an exercise, military officials said Friday.

The Russian aircraft on Thursday penetrated a 12-mile buffer zone near American airspace, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

The bombers never violated U.S. or Canadian airspace, said Maj. Gen. Brett Cairns, NORAD director of operations.

Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage sent four F-15s to meet the Russian aircraft, said Master Sgt. Tim Hoffman, a base information officer. Two F-15s intercepted the planes by making visual contact and verifying their identity.

The Russian planes then left the buffer zone, he said.

"We just carried out our typical mission," Hoffman said. "They were in international airspace the whole time."

CF-18 fighters also were launched from Canada, but did not intercept the Russian planes.

Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov, commander of Russian long-range aviation, said the exercise involved 70 bombers, which test-fired 18 cruise missiles, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

"All the aircraft involved flew over neutral waters, and none of them came closer than 12 nautical miles to the maritime borders of any country," Khvorov said.

What made the event somewhat unusual was that the Russian military had told the United States about the maneuvers ahead of time, Hoffman said, a sharp contrast to Cold War practices.

"They have become more open with the exercises," he said.

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