NATO Secretary General Applauds Jacksonville-based Fighter Wing’s Role as Tensions Rise Amid Crisis in Ukraine
Amid growing anxiety in Europe over Russian intervention in the Ukraine, NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg visited Jacksonville and its 125th Fighter Wing on Thursday.
About 200 members of the Florida Air National Guard wing and 12 of its F-15C fighters have been deployed to Eastern Europe since March, flying sorties and working with air forces in Bulgaria, The Netherlands and others.
Understandably, during a briefing by Brig. Gen. James Eifert and the 125th’s commanding officer, Col. Brian Simpler, Stoltenberg’s questions focused around the Russian threat and what the Air National Guard could do about it.
“Do you do a lot of intercepts of other planes approaching your airspace?” Stoltenberg asked. “Are there Russian planes?”
Simpler said his unit has trained for that mission and is capable of it. Maj. Gen. Robert Branyon cited an instance where it happened.
“Last year, [a Russian bomber] left from somewhere in the eastern part of Russia and they came down to San Francisco,” Branyon said. “Alaska had F-22s intercept them and Canadians intercepted them.”
Robert Bell, defense advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said the move was absolutely intentional.
“The Russians were clearly sending a message,” Bell said. “They came north to south down the West Coast and made a left turn, like a simulated bombing run at San Francisco, went right into the air defense identification zone and penetrated it.
“It wasn’t accidental, you don’t fly that far and fly a flight profile like that unless you’re …”
Branyon added it was the first time the Russians sent fighter escorts along with the bomber.
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