The U.S. Navy scrambled Navy F/A-18 fighter jets to intercept two Russian Tu-95 bombers as they approached the USS Ronald Reagan in the Sea of Japan on Sunday.

The United States’ Nimitz class aircraft carriers, along with their accompanying battle groups that are usually composed of destroyers, cruisers, and often at least one nuclear submarine, present a formidable show of force by any standard. So when not one, but three of these military flotillas make an appearance in any single region, the whole world tends to notice.

Such is the case in the Pacific right now, where the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the class namesake USS Nimitz are each currently operating, in what some might call a dramatic show of force intended for North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.  These massive vessels pack a serious punch, not only in the form of the offensive and defensive weaponry mounted aboard the ships and their companions, but primarily through the air power they can project.  America’s carriers are the largest in the world, and although these three vessels account for only around a fourth of the nation’s carrier fleet, America currently employs more carriers in the Pacific than any other Pacific nation can muster.

Russia is no stranger to “shows of force,” though their ailing aircraft carrier isn’t quite up to the task in recent years, so they tend to rely on their nuclear capable bomber fleet, comprised primarily of the Tupolev Tu-95.  The massive, four-prop bomber has quite a bit in common with America’s own aging nuclear platform, the B-52, in that they serve similar purposes, have much lower top speeds than more modern bombers and have continued to serve as many of their contemporaries have been retired, thanks to a series of modernization and upgrade efforts.

The Navy has provided limited details into the encounter on Sunday, but they did characterize it as both “safe and professional.”  Russian bombers are often used to prod the outer limits of American or NATO defensive postures, flying unannounced to areas within close proximity to a nation’s air defense identification zone, only to divert when intercepted by said nation’s military aircraft.  Smaller Russian aircraft have also been known to turn off their transponders and buzz U.S. Navy vessels, in a similar form of somewhat benign provocation that hints at the possibility of malicious intent.

Sunday’s bomber flight may not have been intended as a response to America’s carrier presence in the region, but as the pair of Tu-95s came to within 80 miles of the USS Ronald Reagan, they were intercepted by a group of U.S. Navy F/A-18s scrambled from the Reagan’s deck, prompting the bombers to proceed away from the battle group without incident.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy

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