A pair of Tu-95 strategic missile carriers of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) conducted scheduled patrols over the Sea of Japan, the Russian Defense Ministry said on March 21.
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“Two strategic missile carriers, Tu-95MS Long-Range Aviation, performed a planned flight in the airspace over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan. The flight duration was more than seven hours,” the Russian military department said.
Su-30SM and Su-35S, fighters of the Air Force and the Eastern Military District’s Air Defense units, accompanied these strategic bombers along the patrol route. The Russian VKS regularly undertakes patrol missions over the Sea of Japan.
The Russian authorities stated that long-distance aviation crews frequently fly over the North Atlantic, Pacific Ocean, Black, Baltic Seas, and Arctic Ocean, all considered neutral waters. All flights, it added, are carried out in line with international norms.
In December 2022, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers performed an aerial patrol over the Sea of Japan. Like the recent flight, the ministry said Sukhoi Su-30SM similarly accompanied these bombers, and Su-35S fighters supported the aerial patrol.
In late November last year, the Japanese Defense Ministry (MoD) said four Chinese H-6 and Russian Tu-95 bombers flew over waters close to Japan in a demonstration of the long-range capabilities of warplanes.
In reaction, the Air Self-Defense Force of Japan scrambled fighter jets as Beijing and Moscow continued to expand their military cooperation in the Far East. Further, the ministry expressed its concerns to China and Russia through diplomatic channels, considering the flights to be blatant acts of saber-rattling.
Russia and Japan remain embroiled in a decades-old territorial dispute over the ownership of the Kuril Islands. This has led to tensions occasionally flaring up between the two claimants. Over two weeks ago, a Russian submarine used a Kalibr cruise missile in the Sea of Japan to hit a land target over 1,000 kilometers away in a drill.
However, given their timing, the latest bomber flights are even more significant. These flights come a day after the Russian National Defense Control Center told reporters that the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) scrambled its Su-35 fighters to intercept two US Air Force B-52H bombers over the Baltic Sea.
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The Russian Defense Ministry said, “On March 20, 2023, radars of the Western Military District Air Defense force on duty detected two airborne targets over the Baltic Sea, flying towards the state border of the Russian Federation. The targets were identified as two US Air Force B-52H strategic bombers.”
The Russian Defense Ministry further informed that the Su-35 Flanker-E was scrambled to identify the intruding aircraft and prevent a possible intrusion.
“After foreign military planes moved away from the state border of the Russian Federation, the Russian plane returned to its home base,” the ministry said.
Further, the US B-52H bombers reportedly approached the Russian bombers after flying over the Baltic when Russian Su-30SM and Su-30SM2 fighter jets kicked off aerial drills to practice air-to-air combat and carry out ground-attack missions.
US Bombers routinely carry out these flights over the Baltic Sea to ensure the safety of its Baltic NATO allies.
In contrast, the VKS Tu-95MS bombers flew over the Sea of Japan days after the US kicked off joint military drills with the Japanese military in the region.
Over the weekend, destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69) and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Atago(DDG-177) conducted a ballistic missile defense exercise in the Sea of Japan.
According to a press release, the exercise was conducted to practice connecting networks between each Aegis warship and share targeting information for ballistic missile targets. “For the defense of Japan and the realization of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific,’ there can be no unilateral changes to the status quo by force,” read the statement.
The Sea of Japan has seen enhanced activity during the last several weeks, with North Korea rampaging and firing one missile after another. However, the United States has shown a willingness to secure the region, conducting drills with its allies – South Korea and Japan.
On its part, Japan hosts the largest number of US troops, with American military presence only getting bolstered in the face of expanding Chinese and Russian military expansion.
Tokyo has also increased its military budget and is undertaking an extensive military modernization to combat the threat posed by the three adversaries in the region.
The activity of American and Russian bombers one after the other raises eyebrows, with military watchers wondering whether the Tu-95MS ventured into the Sea of Japan to send an emphatic message to the US-led NATO, which regularly sends its bombers to conduct patrol missions over the Baltic.
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