A military coup happened in 1969 in Libya and a military dictatorship was established by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. As Libya started gaining a lot of money from oil exports, Gaddafi was soon accused of becoming one of the world’s most prominent sponsors of terrorism, and that too, quite overtly.
This transformed Libya into a large security challenge, which meant that the U.S had to maintain its military presence in the region. This was done by, for example, stationing aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. From time to time this would result in direct clashes.
For example, in 1981 two American aircraft carrier-based F-14 Tomcat jet fighters combatted with two Libyan Su-22s.
The US Navy had many close encounters with the Libyan military in the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s, but the 1989 January 4th engagement was a little different. A pair of F-14s met with two Libyan MiG-23s – another kind of Soviet military aircraft.
This incident led to sizeable international discussions. Gaddafi claimed that those two MiG-23s were unarmed and called for a United Nations emergency session. The U.S said that American planes over international waters acted in self-defense.
Footage from F-14s proved that Libyan MiGs were in fact armed with AA-7 Apex missiles. Later investigations revealed that the MiG-23s never turned on their fire control radars. However, their actions did seem hostile, especially since Gaddafi might have been worried about his own chemical facility in Rabta.
Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a carrier-capable supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat fighter jet. It made its maiden flight back in 1970 and remained in service with the US Navy until 2006. It is still in service with Iran, which purchased these fighters in the mid-1970s.
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 is a rather similar jet fighter. It is shorter and has a crew of 1, but it also has variable swept wings. It made its maiden flight in 1967 and remains in limited service.