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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Denies Bombers Came Close to Guam

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said Russian bombers never got within 500 kilometers of Guam last week and did not fly over the U.S. territory as a Russian Air Force general claimed.

Admiral Robert Willard disputed that U.S. fighters intercepted the bombers. He said the aircraft never got close enough to the Pacific island or the massive U.S. military exercises being held nearby to warrant such action.

"U.S. planes went to an orbit point in preparation for an intercept that never occurred because the Bears didn't get close enough," Willard said in an interview late last week, using the NATO nickname for the bombers in question.

Earlier, Air Force Major General Pavel Androsov said a pair of Tu-95 bombers reached Guam as part of an exercise intended to demonstrate the Kremlin's resurgent military power.

Androsov said the bomber's crews smiled at the pilots of the U.S. fighter jets scrambled to intercept them.

The U.S. military is currently holding large-scale war games in waters and airspace near Guam. The "Valiant Shield" drills are among the largest U.S. military exercises held anywhere in the world, involving over 22,000 troops, more than 30 ships and some 275 planes.

Willard said the Air Force had not tried to push their way in to watch U.S. carrier training much recently. But he said it was something that happened often in the days of the Soviet Union.

"We're very accustomed to this and it wasn't a particular surprise to us," Willard said. "It was standard operating procedure for those of us that have that experience."

In Soviet days, U.S. fighter jets would fly out to "escort" the planes, he said. The United States and Russia still have procedures they follow in such circumstances to ensure the safety of their forces, he added.

The planes flew to the Pacific as part of Russia's own exercise that saw strategic bombers flying 40 sorties and launching eight cruise missiles, said Androsov, who commands the country's long-range bomber force.

During the Cold War, Soviet bombers routinely flew far over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The maneuvers came to a halt after the post-Soviet economic meltdown, but booming oil prices have allowed Russia to pour money into military budgets.

Willard said the appearance of the bombers did not affect the Valiant Shield exercises, aside from the brief diversion of the fighter jets that were put on standby.