Russian Tu-95 bombers intercepted over Guam

Wow – Russia really is starting to strut its military stuff on the world stage again.

Two Tu-95 bombers flew to the US island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, paying a surprise visit to the US military base there. Shocked US pilots on the base were forced to scramble to intercept the Russian bombers.

The BBC has this quote from a beaming Russian General:

Russian Tu-95 intercepted by US F-15C Eagle jet“It has always been the tradition of our long-range aviation to fly far into the ocean, to meet [US] aircraft carriers and greet [US pilots] visually. Yesterday [Wednesday] we revived this tradition, and two of our young crews paid a visit to the area of the base of Guam. I think the result was good. We met our colleagues – fighter jet pilots from [US] aircraft carriers. We exchanged smiles and returned home.”

The media are, of course, reporting it in rather sensationalist terms (“Russia sparks Cold War scramble” was the BBC’s uninspired effort), but yesterday’s “raid” shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Russia has been steadily raising the international profile of its military, popping up all over the place, from Scotland to the North Pole to the Pacific, reminding its old NATO adversaries that it is still around and, when grumpy enough, is still a force to be reckoned with.

What it really means is that the Russian military now has enough money in its budget to do things like actually fly its planes and to sail its maintained and more or less ship-shape navy out of port. To my mind this is infinitely preferable to having an uncared for fleet slowly rotting away and poisoning the world’s oceans with glowing nuclear waste.

Update: A US General, on the other hand, says that the Russian planes didn’t even get within 500 kilometers (300 miles) of Guam: “U.S. planes went to an orbit point in preparation for an intercept that never occurred because the Bears didn’t get close enough”.

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15 Responses

  1. Aleks says:

    So what’s the military interest? Could it be that the US is building up Guam and and especially Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (stealth bombers, nuclear submarines, the usual fancy toys) because it’s strategy is to shift its ‘focus’ to Asia to protect the US. Would this be to ‘project power’, here meaning, for example, the Malacca Straits where the vast majority of tankers pass, just in case those evil chinese decide to cut the US off???

    The US builds up it forces near Asia to give it the ability to strike rapidly, yet complains of Russian and Chinese arms sales to the region as fuelling and ‘arms race’ (though their arms are in not an insignificant part successfully sold because they don’t come with the usual political conditions that the US applies to its weapons sales). On the other hand, it throws tens of billions of $$$ worth of weapons to some of the dodgiest regimes in the middle east (Egypt, Saudi Arabia (why Israel, they’ve got a nuke triad already???)) which reflects the abject failure to bring about any peace.

    Has the world gone bananas (rhetorical)?

    Those Tu-95s are ancient, though not as ancient as the B-52s at Diego & Guam….

    Still, safety through strength and all that (or is it “strength though joy?”), even at the price of a crumbling infrastructure:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117867434198996732.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    http://www.ey.com/global/content.nsf/International/Real_Estate_Library_Infrastructure_2007

    What a bargain!

  2. cyril says:

    though a “cold war scramble”…it was a brilliant projection of Russian air power to the imperialist US.In their so called “defence measures” to thwart fabled and “never-gonna-happen” attacks from “axises of evil”,the US is making a fool out of asian countries.And admist that they need to learn from these incidents that the world is not the old version the US had in the post WW era and that there are forces to be highly given consideration or a second thought before their imperialistic activities are carried out.

  3. Tim Newman says:

    The US builds up it forces near Asia to give it the ability to strike rapidly, yet complains of Russian and Chinese arms sales to the region as fuelling and ‘arms race’…

    Is there any evidence for either of these things? As far as I am aware, the only significant changes being made to US force numbers in Asia are a huge reorginaisation in South Korea leading to a large reduction in troop numbers, and a similar but smaller scale exercise in Japan.

    As for the Americans complaining about Russia and China selling arms in Asia and using the term ‘arms race’, can you provide a link to support this?

  4. Aleks says:

    You missed it?!!!

    I have a terrible memory. Thank god for my aide mémoire, Mr. Google:

    China is accused of fuelling Pacific arms race
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/04/01/warms01.xml

    Asia’s arms race goes underwater
    http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/april-2007/asias-arms-race-goes-underwater

    China-Russia Deal Could Fuel an Asian Arms Race (1996!)
    http://www.iht.com/articles/1996/02/08/jet.t.php

    China is accused of fuelling Pacific arms race.
    http://www.justsixdays.co.uk/isblog/?p=1616

    “…Vice-President Dick Cheney signalled the US response in February when he visited Guam, the 30-mile long Pacific island dubbed America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier”.

    He hailed the arrival of two Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, with a third due later this year. Guam’s Apra Harbour is under refurbishment to accommodate Trident nuclear subs….”

    Tridents are bang-bangs. It’s quite rare for an high level administration official to make such comments, usually it’s left to someone further down the food chain or the usual think-tanks closely aligned with the administration…

    Good art from Asia Times (also a good website, though with a pro-indian bent): http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/IA10Ad01.html

    Made in America? How U.S. Exports Helped Fuel the South Asian Arms …
    http://www.wisconsinproject.org/pubs/editorials/1998/madeinam.html

    And let us not forget the Europeans who despite a supposed arms embargo on China since Tiananmen, does sell items that could be used for military action – dual-use (nothing pointy, but usually what helps something pointy and goes bang get there): http://www.fas.org/man/gao/nsiad-98-171.htm

    A Holy embargo?
    http://www.defense-aerospace.com/cgi-bin/client/modele.pl?prod=54310&session=dae.25366670.1175880837.F5pxXX8AAAEAAA4PKB8AAAAS&modele=feature

    How China’s pursuit of energy undermines US ‘security’ by dealing with naughty people:
    http://www.iags.org/china.htm

    “A report by the U.S.-China Security Review Commission, a group created by Congress, warned that China’s increasing need for imported energy has given it an incentive to become closer to countries supporting terrorism like Iran, Iraq and Sudan:”

    Not that we don’t deal with any unpleasant regimes, Al Yamamah weapons deals (latest to sell 72 typhoons), our Pakistani allies who turned out by far to be the biggest proliferators of nuclear weapons technology etc. etc.

    Subs to Guam 2001:
    http://www.fas.org/news/taiwan/2001/taiwan-010211-china.htm

    First deployment of B2s to Guam 1998:
    http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/bomber/n19980317_980365.html

    4 B2 shelters to Diego (2002) & Guam:
    http://www.nti.org/d_newswire/issues/newswires/2002_11_7.html
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/b-2-unit.htm

    Nothing new really.

    Australia and Japan are also part of the new containment/build up of support equipment (Jindalee over the horizon radar – long range surveillance over the south china sea and further), the Japanese wanting to buy F22s (www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/IE31Dh01.html), no doubt to deal with the world renoun North Korean airforce (not).

    There’s a great song by a Brazilian band called CSS called ‘Let’s make love to death from above’ which is quite apt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7agPOt1XZz8

  5. Tim Newman says:

    Alex,

    Your claim was quite specific:

    The US [presumably by this you mean the US government] builds up it forces near Asia to give it the ability to strike rapidly, yet complains of Russian and Chinese arms sales to the region as fuelling and ‘arms race’…

    Nowhere in the lengthy list of links you have posted have I been able to find a US government official specifically complaining that the Chinese and Russian are selling arms in the region, nor have I found a case of a US government official using the term ‘arms race’.

    True, there are cases of US government officials making note and expressing concern over the arms sales coupled with volumes of hyperbole from journalists and various opinion-formers, but this does not constitute evidence to support the statement you have made.

  6. Tim Newman says:

    In response to the first part of your statement:

    The US builds up it forces near Asia to give it the ability to strike rapidly…

    I note that you have posted some links to stories, the most recent of which is 5 years old, which state that the US is transferring certain aircraft and submarines to various Asian bases. On its own, this tells us nothing about anything, and certainly doesn’t constitute proof that the US is building up its forces near Asia. Such a statement could only come after a serious and lengthy examination of the changes being made and being proposed to all US forces in Asia coupled with the stated reasoning behind these changes. Op-ed columns on websites fall short of this requirement.

  7. Aleks says:

    Re-reading my post, I clearly wasn’t being so specific as you seem to be claiming, though I note you have changed your original question from (a general question requiring a general response):

    “As for the Americans complaining about Russia and China selling arms in Asia and using the term ‘arms race’, can you provide a link to support this?”

    which I did…

    to ‘redefining’ and raising the bar of your original question to this:

    “Nowhere in the lengthy list of links you have posted have I been able to find a US government official specifically complaining that the Chinese and Russian are selling arms in the region, nor have I found a case of a US government official using the term ‘arms race’….but this does not constitute evidence to support the statement you have made.”

    Asking now for ‘evidence’ rather than ‘support’, and adding ‘official’. More ‘moving the goal posts’ than the ‘Queensbury rules’…

    True, the US has drastically cut back on its foreign bases (the huge one at Souda Bay in the Philipines for example), but the bases they chose to keep open are in strategic locations and are being converted into super bastions, hence (as posted):

    “…Guam’s Apra Harbour is under refurbishment to accommodate Trident nuclear subs….”

    Those would be Trident, nuclear ballistic missile armed submarines, not the regular hunter/killer types. Permanent basing facilities for this type of system does constitute a significant augmentation of US military power in Asia, whilst limiting its exposure. Also the building of climate controlled shelters for the B2 and their notoriously sensitive radar absorbing paint. These are very high value assets, ‘silver bullets’ if you will, even if there has been a large draw down of US forces in South Korea. This is mixing apples with oranges.

    The age of the links were chosen to show that this build up is nothing ‘recent’ and has been planned a long time ago. If I come across some more recent links, I’ll try to remember to put them up, unfortunately work gets in the way of all the fun.

  8. Aleks says:

    Oh happy day.

    http://www.house.gov/bordallo/cong_address-06.html From Congresswoman Bordallo (2006):

    “…$14.2 million ‘compact assistance’; 30% increase in annual Federal funding to $106.5 million over five years for their Territorial Highway programme; increased military construction spending during the past two Fiscal Years and $89.5 million in spending in Fiscal Year 2006; 2004, 7,000 marines to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam…The military construction budget for Guam in future years will increase substantially to accommodate this growth; Air Force has announced its intent to establish a Global Strike Force on Guam that will include Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, deployed bombers, tankers and fighter aircraft. The Navy has announced its intent to relocate a submarine to Guam to replace the USS San Francisco, and they may yet transfer other submarines to Guam or relocate ships in the future to support the new Marine presence….under consideration for increased operational rotations of carriers in the Pacific and the possible stationing of a new carrier in the Pacific…”

    http://www.house.gov/bordallo/Press_Releases/2005/pr103105-1.html (2006) SSNs (nuclear powered, non-ballistic missile subs) to Guam 3 – 5

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/May/14/op/FP605140307.html a wing of 48 F-15s to be stationed etc. etc.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2004/04/08/2003135884/print from 2004: “…Away for more than a decade, the B-52s, the US’ largest bombers, are back in Guam, part of a wide-ranging drive by the Pentagon to make this island, a US territory, a “power projection hub” on the edge of Asia…” etc.

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/?s=diego+garcia Mil contracts for Diego (the base, not the sabre toothed tiger of ‘Ice Age’ fame)…

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/?s=guam & for Guam
    http://www.military.com/forums/0,15240,123418,00.html from the link in the above article, my favorite part “…The relocation agreement includes a commitment by the government of Japan to pay approximately $6.9 billion of the anticipated $10.3 billion cost to move Marines and their families to Guam….”

    http://www.iiss.org/index.asp?pgid=14531&mtype=print
    *15 billion over 1O years (>2006)…

  9. Lyndon says:

    Without wanting to wade too deep into this one, $1.5bn is hardly a blip in US defense spending – less than 0.5% of annual military spending, not that I’m necessarily happy the overall defense budget has to be so large.

    I had a colleague in Hong Kong who was buying real estate in Guam as an investment this summer – now I see why.

    But what really seems to be happening is a withdrawal of US forces from bases in other countries (Philippines, Korea, Japan) and their partial redeployment on US territory, which is (lest we forget) what Guam is. I’m not happy about the “fortress America” mentality, but it’s no doubt cheaper in the long run (especially if you factor in the cost of our foreign-based troops’ actions pissing off allies like Japan) to have people and equipment based, where possible, on US soil.

    And to the extent the US is trying to build its ability to project force in Asia, although I’m sure it makes people who are hawkish on China happy (and of course China is the largest long-term potential threat out there), I’m just as sure that the way such things get through Congress is because they are based on the perceived threat to the US from areas like Afghanistan and the need to fight the “war on terror.”

    Although I don’t think we’re going to use a Trident-launched missile to try to take out Osama (though I assume these subs can launch conventional as well as nuclear weapons), with respect to the B-52’s (which I think were used in Afghanistan) doesn’t it make sense to put your best weapons as close as possible to the perceived threat? And as for refurbishing the harbor in Guam to host Tridents, I was always taught that an option is a valuable thing – spending the military’s money on something like this seems much more useful to me than spending it on pie-in-the-sky ideas like missile defense or those tiltrotor airplanes (the ones with propellers, whatever they’re called – Ospreys?) that took such a long time and so much money to get off the ground. In comparison with projects like these, $15bn in Guam over 10 years looks like a good investment.

    Finally, I think a major US beef (looking at the Rummy quote in the last article you linked to) is the black-box nature of Chinese military spending. The US has portions of its intel budget which are classified, but it would appear (based on my very thin knowledge) that the Chinese keep all MIC and military spending secret. Clearly the same cannot be said about the US, since you’ve been able to cite a number of facts and figures about US military spending, and as far as I know the US defense budget is published every year.

  10. Tim Newman says:

    Asking now for ‘evidence’ rather than ’support’,

    I apologise for not making myself clear, but to me there is no difference; when I asked you to provide links in support of what you stated, I meant provide links containing evidence.

    and adding ‘official’.

    Once again I apologise for misunderstaning you. If I’d known that when you said the Americans are complaining about a geo-political situation, with the word “Americans” to include journalists, columnists, and pretty much anyone else with an opinion instead of a US government official, then I would not have responded.

    Permanent basing facilities for this type of system does constitute a significant augmentation of US military power in Asia, whilst limiting its exposure.

    But as we have both noted, the US is reducing its forces in other areas, such as the closure of its bases in Korea and the Phillipines. Which is why I have a problem with this statement:

    This is mixing apples with oranges.

    No, it’s not. If you are going to claim that the US is building up its forces in Asia and cite instances where military equipment is being permanently stationed in the region, you cannot simply dismiss as irrelevant the fact that the US is reducing its Asian forces in other areas. Both the entities closing and the entities being moved to Asia partly form the US forces in Asia, and a measure of the increase or decrease of the overall force must take both fully into account.

    7,000 marines to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam…The military construction budget for Guam in future years will increase substantially to accommodate this growth;

    How does relocating 7,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam and an increased budget for the latter to accommodate them constitute evidence for an increase in US forces in Asia? Similarly:

    The Navy has announced its intent to relocate a submarine to Guam to replace the USS San Francisco,

    I will agree that US presence on Guam does seem to being beefed up a bit, almost certainly with the expectation that US might be called upon to defend its allies in the region against China, but I have yet to see evidence that this is a build up of arms in Asia as opposed to a reorganisation with the likes of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan playing a much greater role in their own defence.

  11. Buck Wheat says:

    The Tu-95’s are every bit as old as the 52-A’s. I used to watch the YB-52 (tandem cockpit) prototype do TOL’s from Boeing-Seattle. The Tu’s were developed at the same time. The Tu-114 Aeroflot variant regularly flew the Leningrad/Havana run. The Russian LRAA general claims the Bear crew exchanged comradely greetings with the Americans. Right. A Russian gave a PowerPointskij slide show from one of the rear perspex blisters, and an F-15 jockey flipped him the ‘ptitsa’ (bird).

    “Ve now turn left,” went slide No. 23.

    “Vverkh po vashemu,” chirped the F-15 guy, munching on a stale Twinky.

  12. Aleks says:

    Ah, now it is clear.

    You read what you wanted to read.

    I certainly don’t dismiss what you term ‘anyone with an opinion so lightly. My point, once again, is that the US usually uses other forms (compliant/friendly sources) to get its message across rather than officially. At the upper end, they use people like Kissinger in and official-unofficial role (as I commented on an earlier thread). On the lower end they have ex-military, ex-diplomat, pro-administration media etc. who will accurately (an oxymoron I guess) put across their view. Across the atlantic the british government under Mr. Blair made great use of unofficially leaking information to either ‘test the waters’ or soften people up for the decision.

    The only evidence of direct comment was with regards to Venezuela, which according to the FT of 14 feb 2005 “Brazil deal spurs fears of Chávez arms race” said:

    “The US Department of State said last week that it had warned Moscow of the “potential destabilising effect on the hemisphere” of arms sales to the government of Mr Chávez, a left-leaning radical nationalist. But Mr Chávez rebuffed US concerns as “meddling” in Venezuela’s domestic affairs and branded the US a “terrorist state” for its activities in Iraq.”

    But it’s Venezuela, and there’s not likely to be any comeback (easy bucks).

    As for Guam & Diego, Rumsfield himself called them ‘super bastions’. The US can’t afford all its bases (especially not for all the shiny new toys they want to buy). Korean and Japanese sentiment (mostly the young) have turned against US presence on their land as it is no longer the Cold War and they don’t know why the US is still there.

    True, Diego & Guam are/have been used as staging posts/bases to support Iraqi/Afghan/whatever operations, but they are being expanded. It is not so much the size but the quality and what is being put there. Numbers are a Cold War game, only relevant if you want to put some cannon fodder on the ground.

    The 5,000 marines in numbers do not constitute much (especially out of the rest of the draw down), but they are necessary just in case someone tried to invade. Contingency planning/covering your ass. It does not necessarily mean they will be in combat (for example, lots of marines were required to protect the Apaches that were sent to northern Albania in 1999, but were never used for all sorts of quite dumb and ludicrous reasons), though they will be on hand to be rapidly airlifted anywhere within the Indian Ocean or South China seas (if the order comes).

    The last nuclear missile submarines based were Polaris subs, that were decommissioned a very long time ago. Hence, if they are only now upgrading the support facilities for Tridents (including 4 converted special ops boats), then 1: there was a long period where there was no support; 2: they’ve decided that they now need it. This is significant because it reduces the flight time, reduces the range (can get more of China in), doesn’t overfly any ‘sensitive’ countries and combining the above, gives the ‘enemy’ much less time to react. This is quite serious.

    There was also the line(something like), up to 8 submarines may be based there. That’s a lot of fudging, but I suppose it’s best not to let the enemy know too much.

    I should also add that one should be weary of slight of hand when it comes to numbers (as given). Those numbers constitute only some of the cost, there will certainly be other much higher related cost most likely to do with secure handling of nuclear warheads, probably expansion of nuclear storage etc. etc. which will not be made public.

    Lyndon put his finger on several good points. It is a good investment militarily on the potential threat front, and we know militaries like to have plans for everything, however insane they might be.

    I’m not entirely sure which allies in the region will call upon for US ‘help’ though. His other point, which I should have mentioned, is the phrase ‘lack of transparency’ which we often hear when it comes to the ‘secretive’ Chinese military. It is patently ridiculous, but it highlights more the fear of China (i.e. the unknown) and in itself is accusing China of having dastardly plans for the region (Fu Manch style) no doubt.

    Other cute phrases are ‘sending out the wrong signals by supporting oppressive regimes’, for example Darfur, Chinese (mostly energy and raw material) investments into Africa (the only people who put any money into Sierra Leone) etc. etc. Strange that the Japanese have suddenly been visiting Africa a lot in the last couple of years looking for energy investments. No criticism there, or the US setting up it’s ‘Africa Command’…

    Not so long ago, there was a post on Russian/Chinese weapons making their way to Khartum. Who needs to actually say the words ‘You are fuelling an arms race’ when they can use the commonly used phrases mentioned above. It’s just code, and the message is clear, directed in one direction screamed via multiple sources like the media, blogs etc…

    Got to get back to englishrussia.com It makes me feel nostalgic. Nighty night.

    P.S. I meant Subic Bay, Philippines, not Souda Bay, Crete. Null points. Duh!

  13. R. ESNER says:

    SO THE BEARS ARE FLYING FEET WET AGAIN. I CAUGHT MANY A BEAR IN MY DAY. OLD RETIRED SPOOK.

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