Two CF-18s met the Tupolev Tu-95 long-range bombers, commonly referred to as "Russian Bears," at around 1:30 a.m. PT as they flew a course in “the western reaches” of Canada’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the Beaufort Sea, said Maj. Beth Smith, spokeswoman for North American Aerospace Defence Command.
The ADIZ extends approximately 320 kilometres from Canada’s coastlines, a distance far beyond the 22 kilometres, or 12 nautical miles, from the coast that define a nation’s sovereign airspace. Smith made it clear that the Russian bombers never entered Canada’s sovereign airspace.
The encounter comes one day after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivered a speech in Parliament thanking Canada for its ongoing support as his country’s forces battle with pro-Russian separatist rebels.
“This is disturbing. We’ve heard stories like in the past, of Russian bombers challenging Canadian airspace,” said James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence and a Conservative MP from Manitoba.
“This plays into the narrative of a Putin regime that’s more aggressive not just in Crimea, not just in Ukraine, but indeed testing their neighbour in their entire region," he said.
About six hours before the CF-18s intercepted the Russian bombers, American F-22 fighter jets were scrambled from a base in Alaska to meet a group of five Russian aircraft, including two refuelling tankers, two MiG-31 fighters and two long-range bombers.
After the U.S. jets made contact, the group headed west back towards Russian airspace.
“We’re seeing increased aggressive actions being taken by the Russian Federation,” Bezan said during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Despite the ongoing tensions between Western allies and Russia, it is not the first time Canadian and U.S. aircraft have intercepted Russian bombers seemingly flying towards toward sovereign airspace.
According to Smith, NORAD has dispatched fighter jets to make contact with Russian long-range bombers “in excess of 50 times” in the last five years.
Canadian jets intercepted the same type of long-range bombers off the coast of Newfoundland in 2010. After that incident, Peter MacKay, then minister of defence, told CBC News that Canadian military aircraft intercept between 12 and 18 Russian bombers annually.