Washington (CNN)Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time in as many days, a US defense official told CNN on Friday.
The two most recent sightings occurred late Wednesday and on Thursday, with the first involving two IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft and the second involving two Tu-95 nuclear-capable Bear bombers.
Russian aircraft never entered US airspace but the North American Aerospace Defense Command did dispatch US F-22s and Canadian CF-18s jets to perform an intercept during Thursday’s encounter, a NORAD spokesperson told CNN.
On Thursday, the bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage — significantly farther from the US coastline than two other encounters that occurred on Monday and Tuesday.
The Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone is a designated region of international airspace, primarily surrounding the US and Canada, that is meant as a buffer to allow for the identification of aircraft heading towards North America.
While these flights pose no real military threat, US defense officials are taking notice of the high frequency at which they’ve occurred this week.
There is “no other way to interpret this other than as strategic messaging,” the official told CNN.
While the Russians have not conducted flights of this nature since 2015, another senior defense official stressed that they are “not a concern” and attributed the uptick to a recent lack of available Russian aircraft and need to boost training.
“We haven’t seen this sort of level of activity for a couple of years,” said John Cornelio, a NORAD spokesperson, though he emphasized it was not “unprecedented” or “unusual.”
This “shows the value of NORAD and that binational US and Canada relationship,” he said, pointing to the two nations working together to identify and intercept the Russian long-range aircraft.
Earlier in the week, US defense officials called recent sightings of the bombers “nothing out of the ordinary” — itself an indication that both nations are toeing the line between routine military posturing and escalating provocation.
On Monday, US F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A US military official called the interaction “safe and professional.”
An A-29 Super Tucano taxis on the flightline during its first arrival, Sept. 26, 2014, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Afghan Air Force pilots trained on the planes that will be used in air-to-ground attack missions in Afghanistan.
Photos: In the U.S. Air Force fleet
A-29 Super Tucano – An A-29 Super Tucano taxis on the flightline during its first arrival, Sept. 26, 2014, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Afghan Air Force pilots trained on the planes that will be used in air-to-ground attack missions in Afghanistan.
The four-engine KC-135 joined the Air Force fleet in 1956 as both a tanker and cargo jet. It can carry up to 200,000 pounds of fuel and 83,000 pounds of cargo and passengers in a deck above the refueling system. More than 400 of the KC-135s are flown by active, Air Guard and Reserve units.