Two Russian spy planes entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone early Monday morning, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.
"At 4:50 a.m. (AKST), the Alaskan NORAD Region positively identified and tracked two Tu-142 Russian maritime patrol aircraft entering the [ADIZ]," the North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a news release Monday.
The two TU-142 aircraft did not enter U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace, the release said.
Though the Russian aircraft never left international airspace, Capt. Lauren Ott, director of public affairs for the Alaskan Command, said they came within 60 nautical miles of the Alaskan coastline. By international convention, a nations' sovereign territory extends 12 miles from the coast.
"At their closest approach, while still in international airspace, the aircraft were approximately 60 nautical miles off the nearest Alaskan coastline," Ott said in a statement. "We have a number of response options available to any aircraft entering North American Air Defense Identification Zones."
At least four TU-142 Russian aircraft have entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone in 2021, according to NORAD news releases. Two TU-142 Russian aircraft entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on Jan. 25, though the aircraft did not enter U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace on that occasion, either, the news releases said.
Maj. Cameron Hillier, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, told Military.com on Tuesday that NORAD has taken a "proactive communications approach for Russian intercepts" within the past few years.
"Since Russia resumed long-range aviation patrols in 2007, there's been an average of about six to seven intercepts per year. That number over the years has ranged as low as zero and as high as 15," Hillier, a NORAD spokesman, said.
While Hillier declined to speculate about the number of Russian ADIZ incursions in 2020, he said, "We were able to detect, monitor, identify and intercept them each time they entered the ADIZ."
Continued Arctic presence is essential to defense and deterrence, Hillier said.
"It all comes down to, again, establishing that presence, even through the Arctic. Recognizing, of course, that the Arctic is a potential avenue of attack," Hillier said. "Therefore, it's a matter of establishing a credible defense posture and a deterrent for any potential attack."
Citing "an increase in human activity in the region" and changes in "the Arctic's physical environment," Ott echoed that maintaining an Arctic presence remains critical for the U.S. and Canada.
"Demonstrating NORAD's capabilities and investment in the Arctic is imperative to the defense of North America," Ott said in a statement. "Bolstering our Arctic presence and commitment to the region will protect the sovereign airspace of Canada and the United States to deter, deny and defeat potential threats to our air and maritime approaches."