Two Russian nuclear bombers flew within 40 miles of the California coast and one of the pilots relayed a veiled threat during the Fourth of July aerial incident, defense officials said.
“Good morning American pilots, we are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day,” a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber crew member stated over the emergency aircraft channel.
Meanwhile, Russia’s across-the-board buildup of nuclear forces and revised doctrine are increasing the danger of a nuclear war, according to a think tank report on nuclear threats.
Defense officials and the Colorado-based U.S. Northern Command said this week that two U.S. F-15 jets intercepted the Russian bombers on July 4 as they flew as close as 39 miles from the coast of Mendocino County, north of San Francisco.
During the intercept, a crew member on one of the bombers issued a warning in a radio message, according to defense officials familiar with the incident this week.
Earlier the same day, the Bear bombers intruded on the U.S. air defense identification zone (ADIZ) near Alaska. The zone is a 200-mile controlled airspace patrolled by U.S. and Canadian jets under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
It was the second time the Russians conducted provocative bomber flights on the Fourth of July holiday. The last incident occurred on July 4, 2012, when two Bear bombers were intercepted off the California coast in what was then the closest such encounter near sovereign U.S. air space since the end of the Cold War.
A NORAD spokesman declined to comment on the exact distance from the coast the bombers had flown.
Two officials confirmed that the nature of the message from the Russian aircraft was a sardonic Independence Day greeting.
One official said the nuclear-capable bomber flights so close to U.S. shores are part of nuclear saber-rattling by Moscow, and much more of a concern than routine U.S. aerial surveillance missions near Russia’s coasts.
“These are nuclear-capable bombers and that is a big problem,” the official said.
A second official said the buzzing of the California coast coincided with a telephone call made that day from Russian President Putin to President Obama. The Russian leader called for more U.S.-Russia dialogue, Reuters reported.
NORAD said in a statement the Russian bomber flights were “potentially destabilizing.”