Russian Rocket Booster, Not Military Exercise, Prompts Airspace Warning Off California

Airspace over a swath of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California is being closed for the next 10 days because of the re-entry of a “Russian space launch booster,” two U.S. defense officials told The War Zone.

“It is not for a launch or a military exercise,” the officials said, dispelling concerns circulating on social media that the Russians were about to conduct a military exercise close to the U.S. mainland.

Those concerns spread after the Defense Internet NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) Service (DINS) posted a NOTAM on May 13 advising pilots to avoid the listed area between May 16 and May 26 “for Russian Federation impact area by at least 50 nautical miles.”

“This notice is for all aircraft transiting from Hawaii to North America and North America to Hawaii. The following restrictions are due to Russian Federation rocket firing impact area,” the NOTAM read, perhaps sparking confusion.

“The temporary routes described…are for all aircraft equipped with RNP-10 navigations systems or better,” the NOTAM stated.

Text of the Notice to Airmen closing off airspace due to a Russian rocket. <em>Defense Internet NOTAM Service</em>Text of the Notice to Airmen closing off airspace due to a Russian rocket. <em></div></div></div><div class=
Text of the Notice to Airmen closing off airspace due to a Russian rocket. Defense Internet NOTAM Service

The U.S. defense officials did not know which Russian rocket booster was involved. However, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday said a “Soyuz 2.1b launch vehicle with spacecraft on board was launched in the interests of the Russian Defense Ministry from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (the Arkhangelsk Region) on May 17, 2024,” according to Russian media outlets. Still, we don’t know if this latest launch is what sparked the NOTAM and are working to find out more details.

It is not surprising that this notice brought high-interest, given that there was no official word put out about why it was issued and it comes at a time of extreme tensions with Russia. In recent years, Russians have conducted several military operations in the Pacific near Alaska and Hawaii, including the surfacing of the guided-missile submarine Omsk in the Bering Sea off Alaska in August 2021.

In addition, the warning takes place in a section of the Pacific Ocean known collectively as the SOCAL range complex that regularly hosts military exercises, among other sensitive military tests and large-scale training events. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and other Navy ships are operating in the same general area off the coast of Baja doing workups for deployment.

Abraham Lincoln, flagship of Carrier Strike Group Three, is underway conducting integrated exercises to bolster strike group readiness and capability in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations,” the Navy said on a Pentagon image sharing website.

The USS Abraham Lincoln is on a readiness exercise. <em>U.S. Navy</em>The USS Abraham Lincoln is on a readiness exercise. <em><button class=

The USS Abraham Lincoln is on a readiness exercise. U.S. Navy

So as it sits right now, a wayward booster hurtling back to earth is what mariners and aviators in this large area off Southern California need to be concerned with, not a Russia missile firing exercise.

Update 2:54 PM –

The NOTAM in question was removed from the DINS site after this story posted, something which was pointed out to us by Henry Wade, founder of the website. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding its removal, but it isn’t uncommon for these types of notices to be removed if there is no longer a threat to the area defined in them.

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