Russian jets and other military threats have shown a higher level of aggression than at any time since the Cold War, and in some cases, more even than during the Soviet Union era, posing a serious threat to the United States’ ability to defend itself, a top U.S. Admiral warned congress on Thursday.
In November, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg said that fighter jets from the alliance were forced into the air more than 400 times to intercept Russian jets and bombers in 2014, a record number for the post-Cold War era.
While Admiral William Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, did not give an number of the confrontations between Russian jets and other aircraft and fighters from NATO and other Western countries, including the United States and Canada, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “this past year has marked a notable increase in Russian military assertiveness.”
The number of Russian flights into such normally off-limits areas as NATO territory in the Baltic Sea, ranging as far as the English Channel reached new levels in 2014.
“That has not been what they’ve done in the past, even back with the Soviet Union.”
Gortney then delivered a dire warning to the senate committee.
“Should these trends continue over time, NORAD will face increased risk in our ability to defend North America against Russian air, maritime and cruise missile threats,” Gortney told Congress.
There have been dozens of incidents over the past year, largely since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and the breakout of hostilities between the Ukraine government and Russia-backed rebels in April of last year.
As recently as a week ago, Russian jets staged mock attacks on United States ships in the Black Sea, as the U.S. warships teamed with Turkish counterparts in NATO military exercises.
But interceptions of Russian jets by allied fighters became so routine since last spring, they hardly even registered on the news anymore, even when caught in dramatic video showing what one such showdown actually looked like. One such video can be viewed at this link.
Provocative Russian flyovers are far from the only threat posed by the newly revitalized Russian military machine, Gortney said. Russia is closely monitoring NORAD, most likely in search of any vulnerability in the U.S. and Canadian defenses that could be exploited during an actual military conflict.
“We have also witnessed improved interoperability between Russian long-range aviation and other elements of the Russian military, including air and maritime intelligence collection platforms positioned to monitor NORAD responses,” the top admiral said in his testimony.
In a final ominous note, Gortney warned that it is extremely difficult to know whether Russian jets and submarines that approach NATO and U.S. territory are carrying conventional missiles — or missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
[Images: Norwegian Armed Forces]