Russia Air Force SU-27
Russia Air Force SU-27 fighter plane, at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Russian Air Force held in 2012.Vitaly V. Kuzmin

There has been an increase in the number of mid-air challenges between US fighter jets and Russian and Chinese planes, as the eastern Superpowers project their power beyond their borders, a US Air Force official said.

In an echo of 1988 movie Top Gun, in which ace US pilots jostle with their Soviet adversaries mid-air during the Cold War, head of US Pacific Air Forces Air Force General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle told the Washington Post that Russian and US military aircraft had been involved in a number of stand-offs in recent months.

Carlisle said that the operations were part of President Vladimir Putin's strategy "to reassert Russia into what he thinks its rightful place in the international order is, and part of that is continuing to push into the Pacific".

He said that on 17 September, US fighter jets intercepted six Russian military aircraft – two fighter jets, two bombers and two refuelling planes – as they neared the coast of Alaska.

There has also been an increase in the number of Russian bombers reported near Guam, a US territory in the Pacific.

Russia has also intercepted US flights near its territory. In April, a Russian SU-27 'Flanker' flew within 100 feet of a US Air Force RC-135U 'River Joint' reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the sea of Okhotsk, prompting a complaint from the Pentagon.

General Carlisle said that Chinese planes were also establishing a stronger presence in international territory.

"They still talk about the century of humiliation in the last century. They still talk about this as the rise of China," Carlisle said. "They still talk about this as their great nation. And they want to continue to demonstrate that."

He said that recently a Chinese Shenyang J-11 (a variant of the SU-27, known as the 'Flanker B+') performed a barrel roll in front of a US Poseidon P-8 anti-submarine patrol aircraft, about 135 miles east of China's Hainan Island. The Chinese fighter came within 200 feet of the US plane, prompting a public complaint from the Pentagon.

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