NBC News has confirmed with U.S. military officials that two Russian Bear bombers were circling the U.S. territory of Guam last week at roughly the same time President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. The planes were capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles, the report adds, and while they stayed in international airspace, the United States scrambled F-15 jets from the Andersen Air Force Base to intercept them.
The exchange “stayed professional,” one source said, despite the unusual encounter.
“It wasn’t provocative but it certainly got our attention,” another source elaborated.
The Washington Free Beacon, which broke the story, notes that this isn’t the first time that Russian jets have been caught poking around U.S. territories. Over the summer, they were caught simulating attacks on on “enemy” air defenses and strategic facilities near Alaska.
The U.S. has stated its hope of “pressing the reset button” with Russia, and President Obama signed a strategic arms reduction treaty with Russian President Medvedev in February 2011.
The Washington Free Beacon has more on how experts are weighing in:
John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador and former State Department international security undersecretary, said the Russian bomber flights appear to be part of an increasingly threatening strategic posture in response to Obama administration anti-nuclear policies.
“Every day brings new evidence that Obama’s ideological obsession with dismantling our nuclear deterrent is dangerous,” Bolton said. “Our national security is in danger of slipping off the national agenda even as the threats grow.”
Defense officials said the bombers tracked over Guam were likely equipped with six Kh-55 or Kh-55SM cruise missiles that can hit targets up to 1,800 miles away with either a high-explosive warhead or a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead.
Defense officials disclosed the incident to the Free Beacon and said the Russian bomber flights appeared to be a strategic message from Moscow timed to the president’s state of the union speech.
“They were sending a message to Washington during the state of the union speech,” one official said. [Emphasis added]
Former State Department security official Mark Groombridge had a similar response, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
“One could argue the Russians were poking a bit of fun at the Obama Administration, seeing how they flew these long-range bombers close to Guam on the same day as the state of the union address,” he began. “But the broader implications are more profound…The Russians are clearly sending a signal that they consider the Pacific an area of vital national strategic interest and that they still have at least some power projection capabilities to counterbalance against any possible increase in U.S. military assets in the region.”