Russian strategic nuclear bombers taking part in large-scale military exercises flew practice strike missions in the western Pacific on Monday and were intercepted by Japanese fighters, according to Japanese and Russian officials.
The bomber flights were the latest case of strategic saber rattling by Moscow and followed what U.S. defense officials said earlier this year were practice-bombing runs against U.S. and Japanese military bases in the region.
Japan’s Joint Staff said Monday that three Japanese fighters were scrambled to intercept the Tu-95 Bear H bombers that were detected flying north near the Korean peninsula and Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island.
A third Russian aircraft, an Il-20, flew over the disputed Kuril Islands controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan.
The bombers flew over the Sea of Japan for a total of seven hours and 15 minutes, the military said in a statement carried by Kyodo News Agency.
The bomber flight was part of one of Russia’s largest military exercises, which is currently underway.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Tu-95 involved in the exercises were carrying "strategic missiles" as part of an exercise and began patrols from their base near Belogorsk "in order to provide strategic deterrence measures over the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk."
"The total number of troops involved in the inspection of the combat readiness is about 160,000 military personnel, more than 5,000 tanks and armored fighting vehicles, 130 long-range, military transport, fighter, bomber and army aviation aircraft, as well as up to 70 Navy ships," Maj. Gen. Igor Dylevskiy, a Russian military officials was quoted by Interfax News Agency as saying.
Russian officials said three Japanese aircraft intercepted the bombers along with one South Korean jet.
Russian strategic bombers also have flown close to U.S. air defense zones on five different occasions over the past year as part of an effort by Moscow to flex its strategic nuclear forces.
The bomber flights have been largely ignored by the Obama administration as part of its conciliatory efforts to "reset" relations with Moscow.
The latest Russian bomber incursion took place in April and prompted the U.S. Air Force to scramble two F-22 interceptors near Alaska to chase the bombers.
Russian bombers also ran up against U.S. air defense zones in June and July of last year with a July 4 incident involving two Bear H bombers that flew closer to the California coast for the first time since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, when such incursions were more common.
Two Bear H’s circled Guam, a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific, in February, and in April two strategic Tu-22 Backfire bombers carried out what defense officials said were simulated missile attacks against U.S. missile defenses and bases in Japan last month.
The stepped-up bomber flights by Russia are aimed at influencing U.S. policy on missile defenses in Europe, that Russia is opposing as threatening its strategic forces.