ANCHORAGE, SEPT. 21 -- Two U.S. fighter jets intercepted and turned back a seldom-seen Soviet spy plane off the northwest coast of Alaska, Air Force officials reported today.
Air Force intercepts of Soviet aircraft flying near the coast of Alaska have increased recently, but the surveillance plane fended off Friday is rarely observed in the area, said Master Sgt. Jack Hokanson of the Alaska Air Command.
Two F15 jets intercepted the Soviet Ilyushin IL20, called a Coot by NATO forces, in the Chukchi Sea 70 miles southwest of Cape Lisburne on Alaska's northwest coast at 2:25 p.m. ADT Friday, said Clare Lynam, an aide to Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), who was informed of the interception.
The Air Force jets were scrambled from their base at Galena in central Alaska.
It was the 23rd time this year that Air Force fighters have intercepted Soviet aircraft in international airspace around the perimeter of Alaska. In those incidents, 42 Soviet planes have been steered away from Alaska and back toward Siberia.
By comparison, the Air Force conducted 17 intercepts of 34 Soviet aircraft off Alaska last year. The Air Force usually intercepts Soviet Bear bombers flying training missions in pairs off Alaska.
This is the second time this year the Air Force has intercepted a Coot, Hokanson said, and only the fourth time since 1980 that the big four-engine surveillance plane has been caught flying near Alaska.
Hokanson declined to ascribe any special significance to the presence of the Soviet electronic surveillance plane in the area.
Another one of the big intelligence-gathering planes was intercepted June 16 south of Adak, where there is a U.S. naval air station, Hokanson said.
The Soviet planes do not penetrate U.S. airspace but remain in international airspace.
When an unidentified aircraft appears on radar near the United States, in the U.S. air defense identification zone, the Air Force dispatches fighters to identify and steer the aircraft away.