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Bear Huntin'

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  • Bear Huntin'

    Russians up to their old tricks. Coincidence that Obama was visiting about the same time?? Stupid NDP response.

    By Stephen Thorne, The Canadian Press

    OTTAWA - Canadian and U.S. fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a provocative Russian bomber over the High Arctic on the eve of American President Barack Obama's visit last week, the defence minister said Friday.

    No Russian aircraft actually entered Canadian airspace, but Peter MacKay suggested the timing of the Feb. 18 incident was suspect.

    "Within 24 hours of the president's visit to Canada last week we did scramble two F-18 fighter planes," MacKay told a news conference.

    "They met a Russian aircraft that was approaching Canadian airspace and, as they have done on previous occasions, (the Canadians) sent very clear signals that were understood: that aircraft was to turn tail and head back to its own airspace. Which it did."

    The CF-18s took off from Cold Lake, Alta., after Norad detected what a Defence official confirmed was a Cold War-era, long-range Tupolev Tu-95 bomber- known as a Bear - headed for Canadian airspace.

    The Russian embassy in Ottawa was closed on Friday, taking a long weekend to mark Protector of Motherland Day.

    But a Russian air force spokesman, Lt.-Col. Vladimir Drik, said in a statement carried by the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency the flight had been planned in advance and was part of routine patrols. He said the crew acted according to international agreements and did not violate Canadian air space.

    Speaking in Saskatoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the incident "a real concern to us."

    "I've expressed at various times the deep concern our government has with increasingly aggressive Russian actions around the globe and Russian intrusions into our airspace," Harper said.

    "This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond; we will defend our airspace."

    MacKay suggested the Russians may have been testing Norad's response while national security was focused on Ottawa in advance of Obama's first foreign trip since his inauguration.

    "I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of deliberately doing this during the presidential visit," he said. "But it was a strong coincidence, which we met with the presence, as we always do, of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business."

    They sent a signal, MacKay said, that the Russians should "back off and stay out of our airspace."

    Russian aircraft regularly encroached on North American airspace during the Cold War and Canadian and American fighters routinely tracked the snoopers and escorted them back into international airspace.

    Such flights were suspended for years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but resumed in August 2007 as Russia pushed its claim on the Arctic and oil wealth allowed the country to spend more on its military.

    There have been an increasing number in February and it's not clear why MacKay chose to discuss this particular one, especially since the flight never crossed Canadian territory.

    New Democrat MP Paul Dewar suggested the minister's tack may be more suspect than the Russians'.

    "The question is why is Mr. MacKay stating these things now?" Dewar said. "And where is the co-operation here that we need to see between polar countries?

    "I think what Peter might be doing here is trying to go back to the '50s and play a little Cold War. Well, I'm sorry, but you know what? If he wants to play a game of Risk in his basement, that's up to him, but it has no place in terms of diplomacy."

    Pilots tend to consider the intercepts a symbol of status rather than of hostile action, often exchanging smiles while taking photographs and video at 30,000 feet or so.

    "Russian long-range activity is part of their training exercises and so we do see this," said Canadian navy Lt. Desmond James, a spokesman at Norad headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. "We don't treat it as a hostile intent as much as a training exercise.

    "On our part, we go up to make sure they know that while they are doing their training, we do know that they're there and we are watching, prepared to respond should they decide that they're going to alter their course in a threatening manner.

    "We have to let the Russians - any aircraft - know that we are in a position to respond."

    A Russian lieutenant-general said when the flights resumed that the West would have to come to terms with Russia asserting its geopolitical power around the globe. "But I don't see anything unusual; this is business as usual," he said.

    Former Russian President Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, said at the time the patrols would be conducted in areas of Russian economic interest and active shipping, rather than in regions required for "deterrence of a missile-nuclear attack on Russia."

    There have been "easily more than 20" such encounters since mid-2007, James said. Similar flights have occurred elsewhere.

    "It's not an isolated thing," James said. "It's become more common and more prevalent throughout the world."

    He called the Feb. 18 incident "a textbook response" involving both Canadian and U.S. aircraft.

    The Bear first flew in 1951 but experts consider it a more formidable nuclear delivery device than ever, despite its advanced age.

    The Tu-95's unusual, twin-propeller, turboprop engines give it a much lower fuel consumption than comparable long-range, jet-powered bombers such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. It can stay aloft for extended periods and can carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

    The commander of Russian long-range aviation, Maj.-Gen. Pavel Androsov, has said the heavy bombers do not carry weapons during such "patrols," only unarmed training missiles with the same weight and dimensions as the real ones.

    Russia intends to conduct modernization programs for its fleet of strategic bombers this year, adding new targeting and navigation technology in the Bear, among others, Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, who leads the 37th Air Army, said last month.

    U.S. air force Gen. Gene Renuart, head of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, said Friday pilots use internationally recognized signals to head off such incursions, including rocking wings, turning in front of the bombers and issuing radio warnings.

    "While we do not speak the common language, they are trained in those common signals just as we are," said Renuart. "To date, those have been effective in deviating or deterring those aircraft from entering into either Canadian or American airspace."

    The Russian pilots have been "professional" in their conduct, he added, but it's important for Canada and the United States to maintain "that solid, integrated air defence posture that we have."

    MacKay said the Russians give no warning prior to the flights. Canadian government officials, including MacKay, have asked the Russian ambassador and defence minister to give Ottawa notice of the missions. The requests have fallen on deaf ears.

    "They simply show up on a radar screen," the minister said. "This is not a game at all.

    "These aircraft approaching Canadian airspace are viewed very seriously."

  • #2
    It may be that the Russians took the opportunity of Obama's Canadian visit to run a little air show, but in truth there's nothing new here. For the past 2-3 years the Russians have resumed the kind of missions which were common in the cold war and on a fairly regular basis have been buzzing the coasts of Norway, Denmark, the UK, Iceland and Canada. No big deal.