Russian warplanes last week flew near Alaska and Canada several times, prompting North American air-defense forces to scramble jets for the first time in more than two years, the Pentagon said on April 24.
Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers were spotted in international airspace three times -- twice near Alaska's Aleutian Islands and once near mainland Alaska and Canada, the Pentagon said.
The flybys occurred April 17, 18, and 20, prompting on two occasions the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to launch fighters to conduct intercepts, it said.
NORAD spokeswoman Lori O'Donley said a number of Il-38 antisubmarine aircraft were also spotted in international airspace in the same vicinity on April 19.
The White House has dismissed the importance of the flybys, saying "this is not highly unusual."
"They were all conducted safely, professionally, and with respect for U.S. territorial airspace," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis.
But Davis said such flybys have not occurred off Alaska for years, possibly because the large, propeller-powered Tu-95s were grounded for maintenance.
"This was the first time in about 2 1/2 years that we have seen Russia conduct long-range bomber missions like this in and around Alaska," Davis said.