TOKYO -- For the second time in 24 hours, Japanese fighters Tuesday scrambled to intercept a formation of Soviet bombers flying close to Japan's air space en route to strengthen Moscow's air power in Indochina.
Defense officials said 32 Japanese fighters were sent to warn off the bombers that were flying south to Vietnam through the Tsushima Strait that separates Japan and South Korea.
The officials said none of the Soviet bombers entered Japanese airspace as one did for about two minutes Monday.
About 6:25 a.m. local time Tuesday, a formation of five Tu-16 Badgers and two Tu-95 Bears was spotted flying over the 155-mile-wide strait toward Japan, according to officials of the Japan Air Self Defense Force.
Two of the Badgers continued their southward flight toward Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay air and naval base while the rest turned around and headed for their base in Siberia, the officials said.
Forty Japanese fighters Monday intercepted a formation of nine bombers that flew south over the waterway.
One Badger defied dipped-wing warnings from the fighters and flew briefly into Japanese airspace off western Japan. Three other Badgers continued flying toward Vietnam and the other aircraft returned to Siberia.
That incident was the 16th violation of Japanese airspace by Soviet warplanes since 1967 and the first since November of last year.
'It is still to early to determine whether the arrival of an additional five Badgers is aimed at further strengthening the Soviet air power in Vietnam or at replacing some of the Badgers already deployed there,' an air force spokesman said.
He noted that Soviet air power in Vietnam 'increased to a great extent' with the arrival of nine Badgers in November 1983.
Defense sources said large squadrons of Soviet bombers flew over the strait three times late last year and nine of them were later confirmed to be deployed at Cam Ranh Bay.
The Soviet Union currently has at least 14 Tu-16 bombers based at Cam Ranh, enhancing its air-to-sea capabilities in the Vietnam region, they said.
The Tu-16s and Tu-95s, both long-range subsonic bombers, are among the oldest bombers in the Soviet strategic force.
The Tu-16 twin-engined jet was ordered into production in 1955. With a 620-mph maximum speed, it has a range of 4,000 miles and can carry 13,000 pounds of bombs.
The Tu-95, patterned after the U.S. B-29 of World War II and powered by four turboprop engines, constitutes part of the Soviet long-range force and the Soviet navy. It has a range of 11,000 miles.