It was like something out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.
The only thing missing was villain Lee Van Cleef, and a pulsating soundtrack from Ennio Morricone.
Mano a mano in Alaska. A standoff of epic proportions, on the frozen landscape of the Arctic Circle.
US F-16s and F-35s, staring down Russia and its MiG-31 Foxhounds.
This isn’t Adobe Photoshop folks, this is real.
According to a report in the UK’s Daily Mail, an impressive fleet of 30 fighter jets and two refueling aircraft lined the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, in a display of air power and American military might.
A group from the 354th Fighter Wing and the 168th Wing Air National Guard were pictured on Friday in what is known as an “Elephant Walk.”
The drill involves a procession of military aircraft taxiing close in formation right before a minimum interval takeoff — essentially a readiness exercise in testing how quickly fighter jets can take to the skies.
It came after Russian and Chinese bombers flew a joint patrol mission over the Western Pacific on Tuesday in a show of increasingly close military ties between Moscow and Beijing, the Daily Mail reported.
The Russians have also recently deployed MiG-31 Foxhound long-range interceptor planes to their base in Anadyr, in the Chukotka region, directly opposite Alaska.
The formation was captured in a series of photographs as the planes sat on the runway.
Every aircraft at Eielson AFB, located just 110 miles south of the Arctic Circle, taxied into position displaying the full airpower of the 354th FW and the 168th Wing together.
Some 18 F-35A Lightning II’s, 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons, and two KC-135 Stratotankers were all pictured on the tarmac ready for takeoff, the Daily Mail reported.
“The Elephant Walk isn’t only to practice our abilities to respond quickly,” said US Air Force Col. David Skalicky, 354th Operations Group commander, ‘This is to show our Airmen who work behind the scenes what Eielson AFB is about, it’s about showing our strength in the arctic arena.
“We are executing this despite Coronavirus, despite the extreme weather conditions, and despite that it’s one of the shortest days of the year.”
“Every Airman across the Fighter Wing contributed to today’s event, and we proved what our team is capable of … supporting, defending, or delivering 5th generation airpower and advanced training. Stay tuned, because our combat capability will continue to grow, and I’m incredibly proud of the disciplined, professional, combat-focused approach our team displayed,” said Col. David Berkland, the 354th FW commander.
Displays of air power such as this are becoming far more common as the USAF attempts to send clear messages to other states such as Russia and China who are not afraid to antagonize American operations, the Daily Mail reported.
In August, the Russian military intimidated Bering Sea fishermen who were still in American waters.
In one incident a Russian warplane flew overheard while a fishing vessel sailed below forcing them to take a five hour detour.
In a second instance, Russian planes repeatedly buzzed two American fishing vessels and once again warned of live missile fire.
Sen. Dan Sullivan said the Arctic is the next arena of great military power competition, and Russia has built up a lot more infrastructure on its side.
“Without further investment in our polar capabilities, our adversaries’ influence will grow,” said Sullivan to AlaskaPublic.org. “‘And if that happens, we risk our ability to protect US vessels conducting commerce, to enforce international law, and to defeat threats to our national security.”
President Vladimir Putin boldly said last month that Russia wants to retain its “superiority” in the Arctic and that it planned to renew its icebreaker fleet to bolster its presence there, Reuters reported.
Moscow has stepped up its efforts to tap the region’s commercial potential, including by increasing freight traffic on the Northern Sea Route, which runs from Murmansk in the Russian Arctic to the Bering Strait near Alaska.
It has also re-opened abandoned Soviet military, air and radar bases in the energy-rich region as it vies for dominance against traditional rivals Canada, the US and Norway as well as newcomer China, Reuters reported.
Speaking at the unveiling of a new icebreaker in St. Petersburg, Putin pledged Russia would continue modernizing its Arctic fleet.
“It is well-known that we have a unique icebreaker fleet that holds a leading position in the development and study of Arctic territories,” Putin said.
“We must reaffirm this superiority constantly, every day. We must build up our positions, strengthen and update our fleet, introduce new advanced technologies in the construction of icebreakers and other vessels of that class.”