By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two Russian long-range bombers were spotted just 50 miles off the California coast earlier this week and air defense officials scrambled a pair of F-22 fighter jets to make visual identification, a NORAD spokeswoman said on Thursday.
The Russian aircraft never entered U.S. airspace during what appeared to be a routine training mission, Major Beth Smith of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said.
Smith said four TU-95 Bear H Russian Long Range Strategic Bombers and an accompanying refueling tanker were first noticed entering the so-called Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) within 200 miles of Alaska coast at about 4:30 p.m. pacific time on Monday, Smith said.
They left the ADIZ heading west after two F-22 fighters from the Alaskan NORAD region made visual contact with them, she said.
Five hours later, two of the Russian bombers were detected within 50 miles of the California coast, Smith said, and visually identified by two F-15 fighters from the Continental NORAD region.
According to NORAD, the Air Defense Identification Zone is defined as a zone of airspace which extends approximately 200 nautical miles out from the U.S. coastline.
As part of its mission, NORAD tracks and identifies all aircraft flying in that zone before they enter sovereign airspace, which extends 12 miles from the coastline.
Smith said Russian aircraft have flown within the ADIZ dozens of times over the past several years as part of training missions.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)