U.S. and South Korean fighter jets scrambled to turn back a Russian bomber that approached a U.S. aircraft carrier during training exercises, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday.
The Russian aircraft flew close to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in waters off South Korea's eastern coast Wednesday, but retreated shortly after the allied warplanes approached, an official at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.
Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed military official saying two F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters from the carrier and four South Korean F-16 jets were deployed to intercept the Russian plane.
The South Korean official refused to confirm details of the fighters involved. Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman at the U.S. military command in Seoul, said he was aware of the report but had no comment on it.
To get close to the U.S. carrier, the Russian plane intruded into a South Korean-controlled air defense zone above the open sea, Yonhap reported.
The zone does not belong to South Korea's aerial territory, but was demarcated by the U.S. military a year after the Korean War broke out in 1950, as part of efforts to prevent accidental aerial clashes among regional powers.
In recent years, discord between the U.S. and Russia has grown over American plans to build a missile defense network and expand NATO membership. Russia has sought to bolster political and trade ties with countries in Asia and the Middle East to counter U.S. clout.
The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War that ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. American and South Korean troops regularly stage joint exercises to maintain their ability to deter a North Korea attack.