Admiral Calls USS Nimitz Incident ‚Benign‘
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2008 – The chief of naval operations today downplayed the low flight of a Russian Tu-95 over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the western Pacific Ocean.
The Tu-95 flew over the Nimitz at about 2,000 feet while another bomber flew nearby Feb. 9, but both were escorted by U.S. aircraft and the event did not even warrant a call to „general quarters“ or for crews to man battle stations, Navy Adm. Gary Roughead said.
„I did not consider it to be provocative,“ he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. „We knew they were coming. We saw them coming. We detected them at the appropriate time. We launched our alert aircraft, who escorted the Russian aircraft. From my perspective, everything worked exactly as we are trained to do and as we expect our people and our commanders to perform.“
Roughead, who trained to fight the Soviet navy as a young officer, said he sees the event as a signal that the Russian navy is trying to emerge as a global entity.
„My sense is that they are stretching their wings, so to speak,“ Roughead said.
When the Russian aircraft turned toward the Nimitz, four F/A-18 fighter jets intercepted and escorted them until they left the Nimitz’s operating area.
Roughead said he has not asked for an explanation of the event from the Russian government, adding that no protective airspace is designated around craft operating in international waters.
„It was a very benign flight that came through, and we just latched on to them and followed them in,“ the admiral said. „I know I’m not playing this up very much, but that’s the way I see it. They came out to look. We joined up (and) flew with them until they went home.“
In total, four Russian Tu-95 bombers were involved, a Navy spokesman said. Two remained about 500 miles east of the U.S. ships, and another orbited about 50 miles away as the one Tu-95 did two low passes over the Nimitz carrier group, he said.
Asked about the incident at a Senate Budget Committee hearing this morning, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the incident raises questions about Russia’s intentions in returning to „a Cold War mindset,“ and that the Russian aircrew did „nothing different and nothing unprofessional.“
„It is free and international airspace,“ he said, „and we’re just trying to now go back and look what message was intended by this overflight.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)