TRIPOLI, Libya — As two U.S. aircraft carriers steamed toward Libya today with their jet fighters flying routine missions, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadafi said he has placed his navy and air force on "total alert" and Libya warned President Reagan that he is "playing with fire" by ordering U.S. air and naval operations off the Libyan coast.
Kadafi, talking to three Western reporters who passed his comments on to other correspondents, said he had ordered Libyan aircraft out over the disputed Gulf of Sidra "to defend Libya's territorial waters."
There was no outward sign of a "total alert" among Libyan naval forces or among troops around Tripoli. Several Libyan warships and patrol boats and an outdated conventional submarine of the Libyan navy remained at their moorings in Tripoli harbor throughout the day.
Speaking through an interpreter in his tent on the grounds of Tripoli's al-Azizia military barracks, Kadafi denounced the U.S. maneuvers as an "aggressive provocation" by President Reagan.
"Reagan thinks he can still treat the Arabs as though he were living in the age of the Crusades," Kadafi said.
'Won't Go Unanswered'
A commentator of the state-run Libyan radio earlier described the U.S. 6th Fleet operations off the Libyan coast as "another aggressive provocation by Ronald Reagan . . . which will not go unanswered."
The official JANA news agency said "fortunately the Soviet Union stands beside Libya. There are six Soviet destroyers in the Mediterranean, four off Libya and two off Israel. They will not allow Libya to be attacked with impunity."
A JANA statement read on government radio said that the U.S. government "must realize it is playing with fire" and that Libya "will not be able to bear indefinitely living under the shadow of the official American terrorism and the threat of military force and economic and information wars."
The Navy confirmed Thursday that it had notified civilian air-traffic control officials in the Libyan capital of Tripoli that "carrier flight operations" would be conducted periodically off the coast in "international air space" through Jan. 31.
The move is part of an effort to demonstrate American resolve to operate in the area.
Some Flights Made
Late this morning, Pentagon sources requesting anonymity confirmed that some flights had already been flown--without incident--off the carriers Coral Sea and Saratoga.
The Mediterranean has been especially tense since the Dec. 27 terrorist attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna, which left 20 people dead, including five Americans and two Israelis.
U.S. and Israeli officials have accused Kadafi of backing a Palestinian faction believed to have carried out the attacks. Kadafi has denied involvement.
Pentagon sources said the naval moves in no way presaged plans for a retaliatory strike against Libya for the terrorist attacks.