US Navy F/A-18 fighter jets were dispatched from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and escorted two Russian TU-95 bombers that were approaching the ship on Sunday, according to two US defense officials.
The interaction – which occurred as the Russian bombers flew about 80 miles from the US carrier – was deemed safe and professional, the officials said, and the Russian aircraft proceeded without incident.
The USS Ronald Reagan was operating in the Sea of Japan/ East Sea at the time of the interaction.
Three US carriers – USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz – have been operating in the US Navy’s 7th Fleet area of operations, which covers the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, in recent days.
The Roosevelt and Nimitz joined the Reagan, which is based in Japan, in the region last week.
While the Navy did not provide any specific mission details for the Roosevelt and Nimitz, the presence of the additional carriers has drawn attention in the region.
Added US military presence is almost certainly meant as a message to North Korea but also sends a signal to Russia and China as both nations attempt to expand their own footholds in the region.
Russia has sent its bombers flying over the Korean Peninsula in recent months – a telegraph to both Beijing and Washington that Moscow, too, is pivoting to Asia.
US and Russian aircraft conduct regular intercepts of foreign aircraft in international airspace and most are deemed to be safe and professional by both sides.
In June, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a US bomber over the Baltic Sea in international waters in such an interaction.
But the US took issue with a separate June encounter in which a Russian Su-27 fighter jet flew within five feet of a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in the skies above the Baltic Sea.
US officials deemed that intercept “unsafe” as the armed Russian jet flew “erratically,” in close proximity to the American spy plane.
Russia disputed claims that its aircraft was at fault during the encounter and said it intercepted two US reconnaissance aircraft as they “approached the Russian state border.”
There were more than 30 interactions between Russian and US aircraft and ships near the Baltic Sea in the month of June, a US official told CNN at the time.
US F-22 Raptors were also dispatched on several occasions this summer to intercept Russian bombers and fighter jets flying off the coast of Alaska.
The US military sees these flights as routine and they are not a cause for concern, the US official told CNN at the time. The US also conducts similar flights off the coast of China and Russia.