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Top commander from Colorado Springs warns U.S. senators of Russian threat

March 14, 2015 Updated: March 14, 2015 at 4:20 am
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photo - ** FILE ** A Tupolev-160 warplane during combat training flight near the Engels air force base in the Saratov region, about 700 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow in this   December, 1997, file photo. The Tu-160, known as the Blackjack in the West, is a long-distance strategic bomber capable of carrying out nuclear strikes. Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers  an unprecedented deployment to the new ally's territory amid increasingly tense relations with the United States. The Russian Defense Ministry said the two Tu-160 bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission and will conduct training flights over neutral waters in the next few days before returning to Russia, according to a statement carried by Russian news wires.  (AP Photo/ File)
** FILE ** A Tupolev-160 warplane during combat training flight near the Engels air force base in the Saratov region, about 700 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow in this December, 1997, file photo. The Tu-160, known as the Blackjack in the West, is a long-distance strategic bomber capable of carrying out nuclear strikes. Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers an unprecedented deployment to the new ally's territory amid increasingly tense relations with the United States. The Russian Defense Ministry said the two Tu-160 bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission and will conduct training flights over neutral waters in the next few days before returning to Russia, according to a statement carried by Russian news wires. (AP Photo/ File) 

U.S. Northern Command boss Adm. Bill Gortney told senators Friday that the Cold War could be coming back.

Gortney, who heads the Colorado Springs-based command that's responsible for defending North America from threats and providing Defense Department assistance to civil authorities, cited a re-emergence of Russian aggression as a top concern in testimony Friday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gortney also heads the Colorado Springs-based North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"Russian heavy bombers flew more out-of-area patrols in 2014 than in any year since the Cold War," Gortney said, according to a Pentagon transcript. "We have also witnessed improved interoperability between Russian long-range aviation and other elements of the Russian military, including air and maritime intelligence collection platforms positioned to monitor NORAD responses."

The Pentagon has been ringing alarm bells for more than a year over Russian moves in Ukraine and the new aggressive stance of its military.

While the Pentagon's moves to counter the Russian threat have been evident in Europe, where troops including leaders from Fort Carson are training North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, the rising concern can be seen on the homefront, too, Gortney said.

The admiral cited Russian progress in cruise missiles as cause for alarm.

"Should these trends continue, over time NORAD will face increased risk in our ability to defend North America against Russian air, maritime and cruise-missile threats," he said.

Tension with Russia plummeted after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s. As recently as 2013, NORAD cooperated with Russian leaders on joint military training exercises.

That training was canceled in 2014 after Russia sought to annex portions of Ukraine and won't come back any time soon.

The Russian issue and other growing threats have driven Gortney to repeatedly warn in recent weeks that budget cuts could leave America vulnerable.

The Pentagon has been fighting to get lawmakers to reverse $50 billion in annual automatic spending cuts that would hit the military under a 2011 budget deal called "sequestration."

As part of that fight, top brass has been warning Congress about dangers around the globe.

Other looming threats include domestic terror inspired by overseas extremist groups, transnational criminal networks, computer warfare and North Korean ballistic missiles, Gortney said Friday.

But the biggest threat to security, he said, are the sequestration cuts.

Gortney said the fiscal constraints could lead to a poorly trained and poorly equipped "hollow force."

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

On Twitter: @xroederx

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