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A group of Russian Su-34 bombers conduct a long-range flight from Hmeymim Airbase, Syria, to the Voronezh region of Russia on March 15, 2016. Russian Ministry of Defense photo.

​Russian militarism in Europe and the Middle East indicates an elevated threat to North America as well, NORAD officials told Air Force Magazine. Since 2007, NORAD has seen an increase in the number of Russian military flights willing to press within 200 miles of the US or Canadian coastline, but it’s not just the “expeditionary” long-range aviation that concerns NORAD. Russia’s willingness to fly closer to North America must be viewed in a context of “an increasing Russian willingness to use force, and to use force in unexpected ways in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria,” said a NORAD official. These Russian military excursions are concerning to Col. Jeremy Sloane, vice director of operations at NORAD, not just as adventurism, but also as exhibitionism. “The types of operations they’re doing in combat now,” he said, are a kind of “messaging test, if you will, on what they’re capable of, and perhaps willing to do.”

That the Russian message is aimed primarily at the United States is clear to these officials, but much else about Russian intentions is growing more difficult to ascertain. Steve Armstrong, chief of strategic engagement at NORAD, cautioned that Russia’s “legacy cruise missiles and their legacy tactics, techniques, and procedures were very predictable. Now they have become very unpredictable.” Armstrong said, “The evolution of their capabilities” is marked not only by “the advanced cruise missiles,” but also advanced GPS capabilities that mean “they don’t have to fly to a certain piece of sky or a place on a map … to update their initial navigation systems.” As a result, Armstrong said, “now our swath of what we have to cover is huge.” In agreement with Armstrong, the measurement of the emergence of Russia as a threat to North America is highlighted for Sloane by “how far north we have to engage in order to ensure protection of the homelands.”