The Russian Navy was conducting large war games with dozens of ships and aircraft near Alaska, the military announced on Friday, the largest such exercises in the region since the Soviet era.
The Russian Navy Chief, Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov said more than 50 warships and about 40 aircraft participated in the exercise in the Bering Sea, which included multiple missile launches.
"We are holding such massive exercises there for the first time," Yevmenov said in a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry.
As part of the exercises, the Russian nuclear submarine Omsk appeared near Alaska on Thursday, US military officials said.
The Russian nuclear submarine Omsk can be seen in a file photo. The submarine appeared in international waters near Alaska on Thursday, US military officials confirmed
Russian warships take part in maneuvers in the Bering Sea provided by the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry
Russian missile cruiser Varyag fires a cruise missile as part of the Russian Navy maneuvers in the Bering Sea in this undated video provided by the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry
The North American Aerospace Defense Command and the US Northern Command are closely monitoring the submarine, said Northern Command spokesman Bill Lewis.
"We have received no requests for assistance from the Russian Navy or other seafarers in the area," said Lewis of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. "We are always ready to help people in need."
Lewis declined to provide any further details about the submarine, including its proximity to Alaska. All he said was that it operated in international waters near Alaska.
"We are closely monitoring ships of interest, including foreign military naval vessels, in our area of responsibility," said Lewis.
The Russian military exercise is taking place in international waters far beyond the U.S. territorial sea, he said.
The presence of Russian military equipment at the war games caused a stir among US commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday, the US Coast Guard said.
“We were informed by several fishing vessels operating in the Bering Sea that they had encountered these vessels and were concerned. So they contacted us, ”said Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow on the previous Thursday.
A Russian submariner looks in the periscope during a naval exercise in the Bering Sea in this undated video provided by the press service of the Russian Ministry of Defense
A Russian submarine appears during sea maneuvers in the Bering Sea. The Russian Navy has carried out massive war games with dozens of ships and aircraft near Alaska
The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise known to some U.S. military officials, Wadlow said.
Wadlow had no information about the scope of the exercise or the number of Russian ships involved and referred these questions to Alaskan Command.
Anchorage base officials referred questions to Air Force officials in the US Northern Command.
It was not immediately clear when the exercises began or when they were finished.
Yevmenov stressed that the war games are part of Russia's efforts to strengthen its presence in the Arctic and protect its resources.
"We are building our strengths to ensure the region's economic development," he said. "We're getting used to the arctic spaces."
In recent years, the Russian military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities across the polar region, renewed runways and deployed additional air defense equipment.
Russian warships take part in maneuvers in the Bering Sea after a picture of the Russian military
Russia has given priority to strengthening its military presence in the Arctic, which is believed to account for up to a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that the value of Arctic mineral wealth is $ 30 trillion.
The Russian Pacific Fleet, whose assets were involved in the maneuvers, said the nuclear submarine Omsk and the missile cruiser Varyag fired cruise missiles at an exercise target in the Bering Sea as part of the exercise.
During the maneuvers, Onyx cruise missiles were also fired at a training target in the Gulf of Anadyr off the coast of the Chukchi Peninsula.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted sources from the Russian Pacific Fleet as saying that the appearance of the nuclear submarine Omsk was routine.
Also late Thursday, NORAD dispatched F-22 fighter jets to intercept three groups of two Russian Tu-142 patrol planes approaching Alaska.
The Russian plane stayed in the area for about five hours and came within 50 nautical miles of Alaska. Officials said the Russian jets remained in international airspace and never entered the sovereign airspace of the United States or Canada.
"Our northern approaches have led to an increase in military activity overseas as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and investigate our defenses," NORAD commander General Glen D. VanHerck said in a statement. & # 39;
A cruise missile is fired from a submarine during the Russian naval exercises in the Bering Sea
We've done more than a dozen intercepts this year, most of them in recent years. The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more evident. & # 39;
It quoted the Chief of Staff of the former Russian Navy, Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, saying that the Navy may have wanted to send a deliberate signal through the submarine surface in the area.
"It is a signal that we do not sleep and wherever we want," RIA quoted Novosti Kravchenko as saying.
The presence of Russian military equipment in the region caused a stir among US commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday.
"We were informed by several fishing vessels operating in the Bering Sea that they had encountered these vessels and were concerned," said US Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow on Thursday.
The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise known to some US military officials.
The Russian military has expanded the number and scope of its war games in recent years as relations between Russia and the West plummeted to the lowest level since the Cold War following Ukraine's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and other crises.