U.S. contradicts Russia on planes
An American admiral says the bombers did not near Pacific war games
The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said yesterday that Russian bombers never got within 300 miles of Guam this week and did not fly over the U.S. territory as a Russian air force general claimed.
Navy Adm. Robert Willard disputed that U.S. fighters intercepted the bombers. The admiral said the Russian aircraft never got close enough to the Pacific island or the massive U.S. military exercises being held nearby to warrant such action.
"U.S. planes went to an orbit point in preparation for an intercept that never occurred because the Bears didn't get close enough," Willard said in an interview, using a slang term for the Russian planes.
Earlier, a Russian air force general said a pair of Tu-95 bombers reached Guam as part of an exercise intended to demonstrate the Kremlin's resurgent military power.
The general said the bomber's crews smiled at the pilots of the U.S. fighter jets scrambled to intercept them.
The U.S. military is currently holding large-scale war games in waters and airspace near Guam. The Valiant Shield drills are among the largest U.S. military exercises held anywhere in the world, involving more than 22,000 troops, more than 30 ships and some 275 planes.
Pearl Harbor-based ships involved are the cruiser USS Lake Erie and the destroyers USS Paul Hamilton, USS Chafee and USS O'Kane.
Willard, a former Navy fighter pilot and aircraft carrier commander, said Russian air forces have not tried to push their way in to watch U.S. carrier training much recently. But he said it is something that happened often in the days of the Soviet Union.
"We're very accustomed to this, and it wasn't a particular surprise to us," Willard said. "It was standard operating procedure for those of us that have that experience."
In Soviet days, U.S. fighter jets would fly out to "escort" the planes, he said. The U.S. and Russia still have procedures they follow in such circumstances to ensure the safety of their forces, he added.
The Russian planes flew to the Pacific as part of their own exercise that involved 40 bombing sorties and the launch of eight cruise missiles, said Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, who commands Russia's long-range bomber force.
During the Cold War, Soviet bombers routinely flew far over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The maneuvers came to a halt after the post-Soviet economic meltdown, but booming oil prices have allowed Russia to pour money into the military.
The Kremlin also has taken an increasingly assertive posture on the international stage amid increasingly chilly relations with the United States and NATO.
Willard said the appearance of the bombers did not affect the Valiant Shield exercises, aside from the brief diversion of the fighter jets that were put on standby.
The admiral, who assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in May, said Guam's military training ranges offered a perfect location for a large-scale exercise. He said holding the war games showed the importance of Asia-Pacific security to the United States.
"It's a demonstration of the U.S. military's commitment to the region and to the high level of readiness of our forces, even in very busy operational times," Willard said.