Secretary of Defense James Mattis will embark on his first trip as secretary Feb. 1-4 to meet with his counterparts from two critical allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The four day trip will include stops in Seoul and Tokyo. Departing on Feb. 1, Secretary Mattis will begin his trip in the Republic of Korea, where he will meet Minister of National Defense Han Min Koo and other senior Korean officials. On Feb. 3, Secretary Mattis will travel to Tokyo for meetings with Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada and other senior Japanese officials. The trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation.
NORAD responds after Russian bombers zoom around Japan
A pair of Russian Tu-95 Bear nuclear-capable bombers flew around Japan on Tuesday, prompting the Japanese military to scramble fighter jets as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) increased its threat posture, two U.S. defense officials revealed to Fox News.
The Russian bombers stayed in international airspace, the officials said. News of this latest Russian provocation came shortly after the Pentagon announced that new Defense Secretary James Mattis would make his first visit overseas to Japan and South Korea early next month.
A third Russian Tu-95 bomber took off from a base in eastern Russia near the Pacific Ocean but it did not fly around Japan. Instead, it acted as a “communications relay” to pass radio traffic between the bombers flying around Japan, the officials said.
NORAD did not immediately respond for comment when reached by Fox News.
All three Russian strategic bombers took off outside the Pacific coastal city of Anadyr in eastern Russia. They returned to the eastern Russian airbase Ukrainka, roughly 1,000 miles from Japan.
Three Russian refueling tankers (IL-78) were also part of the flight. Two airborne radar and communications planes known as Beriev A-50 AWACs were also part of the Russian flying armada.
Only two Russian bombers made the flight around Japan’s major islands, according to officials.
The increase in threat posture from 5 to 4 meant the U.S. Air Force would place an extra tanker crew on standby ready to refuel the Japanese jets if necessary, according to officials.
It was the first time Russian bombers had circumnavigated Japan’s major islands in a year, the officials said.
The last time JASDF had to scramble fighter jets in response to Russian bomber incursions occurred a year ago, in January 2016, when two Russian Tu-95 bombers circled Japan’s major islands on a similar flight path to yesterday’s patrol. In March 2015, Russian strategic bombers also patrolled the skies in close vicinity to the Ryukyu Islands.
Russia stopped conducting regular bomber patrols in the 1990s and early 2000s, but has increased its patrol activities in the Pacific Ocean following the Ukraine crisis in 2014 amid the resulting isolation from the West. As I reported in October 2016 (See: “Russia to Set up Heavy Bomber Division to Patrol Japan, Hawaii, and Guam”), the Russian Aerospace Forces are in the process of setting up a new long-range heavy bomber division in Russia’s Far East to patrol the Pacific Ocean inside the Japan-Hawaii-Guam triangle.
The new unit will eventually consist of several dozen Tu-95MS strategic missile bombers and Tu-22M3 long-range bombers. “The Tupolev Tu-95MS, an improved variant of the older Tu-95, is a four-engine, long-range, turboprop, strategic bomber that can be armed with a wide range of weapons including stand-off cruise missiles. Russia intends to operate 20 Tu-95MS by the end of 2016,” I explained. The new division is based on the 6953rd Guards’ Red Banner, Pacific Air Group, which conducted patrols within the Japan-Hawaii-Guam triangle during the Cold War. More here.