- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008


U.S. fighter planes intercepted two Russian bombers, including one that buzzed an American aircraft carrier in the western Pacific during the weekend, the Associated Press has learned.

A U.S. military official said one Russian Tupolev 95 flew directly over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz twice, at a low altitude of about 2,000 feet, while another bomber circled about 58 miles out. The official was speaking on the condition of anonymity because the reports on the flights were classified as secret.

The Saturday incident never escalated beyond the flyover, but tensions between the United States and Russia have been heightened over U.S. plans for a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Such Russian bomber flights were common during the Cold War but have been rare since.

The bombers were among four Russian Tupolev 95s launched from Ukrainka in the middle of the night, including one that Japanese officials said violated their country’s airspace over an uninhabited island south of Tokyo.

U.S. officials tracked and monitored the bombers as two flew south along the Japanese coast, and two others flew farther east, coming closer to the Nimitz and the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton.

As the bombers got about 500 miles out from the U.S. ships, four F/A-18 fighters were launched from the Nimitz, the official said. The fighters intercepted the Russian bombers about 50 miles south of the Nimitz.

At least two U.S. F/A-18 Hornets trailed the bomber as it came in low over the Nimitz twice, while one or two of the other U.S. fighters followed the second bomber as it circled.

The official said no verbal communications were exchanged between the U.S. and the Russians, and the Pentagon has not heard of any protests filed by the United States. Diplomatic protests historically were not filed in such incidents because they were so common during the Cold War era.

This is the first time Russian Tupolevs have flown over or interacted with a U.S. carrier since 2004.

In that incident, a Russian Tupolev flew over the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the East Sea/Japan Sea on Jan. 29, 2004. Since then, however, relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated to their worst point since the Cold War, largely because of U.S. plans to put a radar system in the Czech Republic and 10 missile defense interceptors in Poland.

The United States has defended the plan as necessary to protect its European allies from any attacks by Iran. The Kremlin has condemned the proposal, saying it would threaten Russia’s security.

“We are being forced to take retaliatory steps,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also warned that a new arms race is under way.

Japan, meanwhile, filed a formal protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo after Saturday’s incident, saying that one of the Russian bombers crossed into Japanese airspace for three minutes. Russia has denied an intrusion.

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