Russia tests U.S. air defenses with nuclear-armed bombers over Guam

Russia’s provocative exercises reflect a failure in Washington to assess strategic threats. Photo: An F-15 Eagle intercepts a Russian Tu-95 bomber. / USAF file photo

HONOLULU, February 16, 2013 —  On Tuesday this week, armed Russian Air Force Tu-95 “Bear” bombers skirted U.S. airspace around Guam and were later intercepted by F-15s scrambled from Andersen AFB. The incident, which occurred just shortly before President Obama’s State of the Union Address, is just one of numerous ongoing probes of Western airspaces by Russian strategic bombers since 2007.

The provocative testing of American, British and Japanese airspaces by Russian aircraft over the last six years is a form of political communication intended to put the West on notice that even as they are absorbed and distracted by the ongoing Global War On Terror, Russia retains its Cold War-era capability to deliver nuclear weapons at the times and places of its choosing.

Even as President Obama advocates reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and transitioning the military to enhanced emphasis on commandos and drone aircraft for active use in hotspots around the world, Russia’s defense model revolves around heavy strategic and conventional deterrence models which American policymakers have long since abandoned as being “outdated Cold War thinking.”

The recent Tu-95 incident over Guam followed by the resigned, milquetoast response by both parties in Washington reflects an immense hypocrisy towards America’s nuclear security and national defense. When Iran with its antiquated, lightly armed, regional military – the same one which unsuccessfully fought Saddam Hussein’s military to a stalemate during the Eighties – deploys small boats to the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. policymakers respond with overwhelming outrage and hardline elements in both the Democrat and Republican parties saber rattle for immediate action against Tehran and assess the situation with words like “critical” and “grave.”

An F-22A Raptor based in Alaska intercepts a Russian Tu-95 in 2007 over Nunivak Island. (USAF file photo)

By contrast, when Tu-160 supersonic Russian bombers land in Venezuela or Tu-95s circle Guam or even overfly U.S. Navy carrier groups, policy wonks and academics swiftly emerge in the media to scoff at Russia’s “antiquated” weapon systems all of which are described as having “barely made it to the Western Hemisphere” and such incidents are dismissed as laughable attempts by the Russians to remain relevant in the world.

Yet Russia has more nuclear warheads in reserve than the United States and Europe combined and over the next eight years will spend more than $720 billion dollars towards the acquisition of new combat aircraft – even as the United States Air Force slashes its manned combat aircraft in favor of ISR platforms and unmanned drones.

Both Russia and China have taken seriously the need to invest in strategic weapons platforms, while the United States’ strategy of calculated nuclear ambiguity and minimal deterrence has placed the defense of the United States behind words rather than weapons.

The United States needs to rethink its expensive, ongoing commitment to the Global War on Terror and consider the fact that if a well-executed surprise attack were launched by China or Russia against our forces, the survivability of our military – let alone our way of life – may be seriously jeopardized. Yet even if China or Russia never strike first with nuclear weapons, the increasing diplomatic power of both heavily armed nations should be of immense concern to America and her allies. As our economy and fiscal security deteriorate further, the Bear and the Dragon which have not been depleted by a decade-long war will have the capability to pressure Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions.

The United States is now defended by a hollow force that can neither defeat terrorists nor defend against traditional state militaries. Our troops are worn out, our equipment is outmoded and in light of recent developments it is questionable whether or not the U.S. still retains a secured, survivable second strike capability in a nuclear environment.

The U.S. could not even stop Mexican helicopters from breaching the Texas-Mexico border. Could we stop a cruise missile attack against our harbors and airbases? Russia has threatened to strike at U.S. and NATO facilities over the construction of the ABM facilities in Europe. When was the last time the Pentagon actually calculated or assessed how many of our bombers, tankers and ships would be caught on the ground or in port during a nuclear first strike? Is this even a consideration these days? Or is Iran and third world dictators who abuse their people the only enemies of the United States our leaders have the imagination – or political agenda – to prepare against?

Are we going to have to see Su-35s and Tu-95s over I-95 before America gets serious about national security and domestic airspace sovereignty again? Why are we spending money to send drones into the Middle East to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons when Russia is already testing our airspaces with nuclear armed aircraft? It is time to get serious about America’s defense and our people’s future before it is too late.


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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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