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Flush With Fuel, Russia Deploys Bombers Near Alaska
MOSCOW Russia's Defence Ministry said on Friday it had deployed five nuclear-capable "Bear" bombers to bases opposite Alaska for training that may include probing flights toward U.S. territory now fuel is available. The Pentagon said on Thursday it expected the planes to test U.S. air defences soon. The propeller-driven TU-95 bombers were first used in the 1950s but have been modified down the years and are still a vital part of Russia's nuclear deterrent. "Yes, they have arrived there, they are there," a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman said by telephone. "but this is planned training." He confirmed the planes were temporarily operating out of Anadyr and Tiksi in Russia's bleak and remote far north east.
Asked whether the lumbering strategic bombers would test U.S. defences, the spokesman said: "I can't say anything about Alaska but there will obviously be flights in that direction." "They will decide on the spot whether to fly toward Alaska or not. It will be decided the pilots on the spot," he added. Russian Bear Awakens The Russian air force's press service declined to comment, saying it was not allowed to speak to foreign correspondents. But the AVN military news agency quoted an air force official as saying the flights were purely for training. "They represent no threat whatsoever to the American continent," it quoted the official as saying. December 1 is the start of the new military training year in the Russian armed forces. The ministry's daily newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, said on Friday the air force would be introducing "new elements" into its training.
The TU-95 bombers regularly flew toward Alaska and Britain during the Cold War to see how quickly the West could deploy fighters to respond. The plane is known as the "Bear" in NATO parlance and can carry nuclear bombs or Cruise missiles. The practice of regularly testing defences tailed off in the 1990s, partly because of better relations and partly because of fuel shortages in the cash-starved armed forces. The first such flights in a decade took place last year.
AVN quoted a senior air force commander as saying new crews were now being trained in unfamiliar and harsh surroundings. In recent years, Russian strategic aircrews have rarely had more than a dozen flying hours a year compared with 10 times that for NATO pilots. "One of the reasons for resuming flights from these bases is that fuel supplies have been resumed," AVN said.
"Long-range aviation commanders are taking advantage of this to test how prepared these bases are for combat use." (Reuter)
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), December 03, 2000