RUSSIA has sent two nuclear-capable bombers to a military base just 20 minutes from Alaska in a show of strength to America.
Defence bosses told Russian media that two Tupulev TU-160 bombers – nicknamed the White Swan – were positioned within striking distance, opposite Alaska's coast, as part of a training exercise.
The strategic bombers are supersonic Soviet-era aircraft capable of carrying up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles, says news agency Reuters.
And they're capable of flying 7,500 miles (12,000km) non-stop, without re-fuelling.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence said that the planes had covered a distance of 3,728 miles (more than 6,000km) in over eight hours from their home base in western Russia to deploy in Anadyr in the Chukotka region, which faces Alaska.
The country's state media pointed out that the move showed Moscow’s ability to park nuclear arms on the United States’ doorstep.
Military chiefs said the flight to Anadyr was part of a tactical exercise that would last until the end of this week.
The exercise was designed to rehearse the air force’s ability to re-base such aircraft to operational air fields and to practise air-to-air re-fuelling.
Footage released by the Defence Ministry showed the planes taking off in darkness, and landing in daylight at an airfield set amid flat grassy terrain in the Russian far east.
The flight comes amid heightened tensions over arms control between Moscow and Washington.
Also, RAF Typoon fighter jets have had to repeatedly intercept Russian bombers approaching British airspace.
And last week a mysterious secret nuke missile blast killed five Russian nuclear scientists during "rocket tests" – fuelling fears that superweapons were being tested at the time.
The US withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia this month after determining that Moscow was violating that treaty, an accusation the Kremlin denied.
20 MINUTES FROM ALASKA
Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said on its website that the TU-160s’ flight showed Moscow’s ability to base nuclear bombers within 20 minutes flight time from US territory.
It said: “The distance from Anadyr to Alaska is less than 600 km (372 miles) - for the TU-160 that takes 20 minutes including take-off and gaining altitude.
“Moreover the capabilities of the missiles which the plane carries would allow it to launch them without leaving Russian airspace.
"If necessary, the bombers’ first target could be radar stations and the positions of interceptor missiles which are part of the US missile defence system.”
TU-160s, codenamed Blackjacks by NATO, have flown in the past from bases in Russia to Syria where they have bombed forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow’s closest Middle East allies.
MILITARY EXERCISE IN ANADYR
Russia's Defence Ministry said a total of around 10 TU-160 bombers along with TU-95MS and IL-78 planes were involved in this week's exercise, suggesting it covered other areas too.
Russia is in the process of modernising the TU-160.
President Vladimir Putin last year praised the upgraded version after watching it in flight, saying it would beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability.
Ten of the upgraded TU-160M nuclear bombers are due to be delivered to the Russian Air Force at a cost of £187 million (15 billion rubles) each between now and 2027.
Tupolev, the plane’s manufacturer, says the improved version would be 60 per cent more effective than the older version with significant changes to its weaponry, navigation and avionics.
A similar flight was made a year ago to Anadyr, where state media said the local air field has been modernised to be able to receive bigger planes like the TU-160.