Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, the leader of U.S. Northern Command, warned this week that Russia is increasing their military activity around Alaska in an attempt "to reassert on a global stage their influence and their capabilities."
VanHerck, who is also the leader of North American Aerospace Defense Command, told senators on Wednesday at a Defense Writers Group event that "We’re back in the peer competition."
He added, "Clearly, Russia is trying to reassert on a global stage their influence and their capabilities. That’s exactly what’s going on. It’s great power competition."
VanHerck went on to say that "The difference between the past and now is the intercepts are more complex – multi-access, multi-platforms and often times they’ll enter the [air defense identification zone] and stay for hours. That would be the significant difference. But why this is ongoing? It is playing out as the peer competition that we’ve talked about."
NORAD reported in January and in March that it had identified and tracked Russian aircraft inside the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, though they did not enter the United States or Canadian sovereign airspace.
VanHerck said on Wednesday that "Within the last week or so, there's been significant activity in the Arctic," adding, "Again, I attribute that back to a competition ongoing."
"These Russian military operations include multiple flights of heavy bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, and intelligence collection platforms near Alaska. These efforts show both Russia’s military reach and how they rehearse potential strikes on our homeland. Last summer, the Russian Navy focused its annual OCEAN SHIELD exercise on the defense of Russia’s maritime approaches in the Arctic and Pacific," VanHerck said in written testimony to the panel.
"The multi-fleet exercise, intended in part to demonstrate Russia’s ability to control access to the Arctic through the Bering Strait, included amphibious landings on the Chukotka Peninsula opposite Alaska, as well as anti-submarine patrols and anti-ship cruise missile launches from within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone."
VanHerck added on Wednesday, "When I talk about my strategy, it's getting further left in our messaging and creating deterrence options. It's about giving decision space to senior leaders."
Business Insider notes that "left" here is used as a military term for before an adversary’s action.
"The fact that you can tell a competitor that you're aware of their activities and potential intent gives us the opportunity to posture forces or use strategic messaging to create a deterrence effect," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that "These combat training, research, and practical measures have demonstrated the Russian Navy's abilities and preparedness to operate in the harsh northern latitudes," and added that this work "must be continued."
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