In the opening dogfight of “Top Gun,” a sailor stares at a radar screen, nervously calling out the distance of fictitious MiG-28 fighter jets challenging Tom Cruise in his F-14 Tomcat. His commander watches the foreign aircraft edge closer to his carrier, and finally barks, “250 miles — get ’em outta here.”
A similar scene likely unfolded Tuesday as two Russian Tupolev Tu-142s approached the USS Ronald Reagan in international waters near the Korean peninsula. The carrier launched four armed F/A-18 Super Hornets to intercept and escort the maritime patrol aircraft, variants of the venerable Bear bomber. Still, the Russian planes pressed on, eventually passing within one mile of the U.S. carrier.
These kinds of encounters — staples of the Cold War — had dwindled since the 1990s. But with Moscow reasserting itself and China flexing new military muscles, run-ins in sky and sea are becoming more common.
“I don’t think anything wrong happened here,” Bryan McGrath, a retired naval strategist who runs the FerryBridge Group. “I think it’s just anomalous behavior, based on what we’ve seen since the demise of the Soviet Union. But I think we’re going to see this more and more and more often.