..on last weekend's "buzz job," by a pair of Russian TU-95 Bear bombers, which overflew the USS Nimitz in the western Pacific.
True, this is another indication of more aggressive flights by Russia's long-range bomber force. According to Sky News, it was the first time in four years that Russian bombers have flown in close proximity to an American carrier. Last year, TU-95s flew a similar provocative profile in the region, passing within 200 miles of the U.S. bomber base on Guam. Initially, Moscow claimed that the Bears passed over the island, but that assertion was quickly refuted.
This time around, one of the Russian bombers reportedly flew within 2000 feet of the Nimitiz--close quarters by an standard (the other Bear was reportedly orbiting 50 miles away). But, as the TU-95 buzzed, the carrier, it was escorted by U.S. F/A-18s, part of the extensive air defense shield that protects the Nimitz and other carrier battle groups.
And, here's probably the most revealing nugget from the Sky report:
"When the bombers got to within 500 miles, four FA-18 fighters were scrambled."
So, in other words, the Bears' appearance was hardly a surprise. With available SIGINT cueing, the bombers were detected and tracked long before they appeared over the Pacific, allowing the Hornets to launch and intercept the approaching TU-95s. The F/A-18s probably appeared on the Bear's wing before they entered the employment zone of the anti-ship missiles that can be carried by Russian bombers.
That sent the type of message that the U.S. Navy has long registered with Moscow's bomber force. TU-95s (and other strategic bombers) may have the range to "reach" a carrier battle group, but those aircraft--and their missiles--would be shot down long before they could do any harm.
The Russians can claim a minor propaganda victory with their little fly-by, but if you're a TU-95 pilot, it's a little disconcerting to look out your window and see an F/A-18--literally loaded for "Bear"--flying off your wing. Not to mention those AEGIS cruisers and destroyers that surround the carrier, with hundreds of bomber-killing SM-2s in their vertical launch cannisters, just waiting for a target.