Navy Admiral Bill Gortney said the flights by long-range Russian bombers are "messaging" for the US – a reminder that there is another nation capable of projecting power.
"They are messaging us. They are messaging us that they are a global power," Gortney told reporters Tuesday, before noting that "we do the same sort of thing."
According to Gorney, the number of Russian flights near the US has risen alongside tensions between the two nations following the outbreak of violence in Ukraine. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is watching those planes closely, he added.
"We watch very carefully what they are doing," he said. "They are adhering to international standards that are required by all airplanes that are out there, and everybody is flying in a professional manner in their side and our side as we watch very closely."
Those flights could expand in the coming months, with Russia traveling even further into territory the US considers under its purview. Gortney said "it wouldn't surprise me” if Russia sends bomber patrols through the Gulf of Mexico.
But he downplayed any possible threats from such close flights.
"If you have long-range aircraft, you want to exercise them. In order to exercise them you need to fly long-range missions," Gortney said. "We are prepared to intercept them should we need to, should we choose to."
Gortney is four months into his tenure as leader of NORAD and US Northern Command.