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Japan scrambles fighter jets less so far in 2017, but sees uptick in 'unusual' flights by China

A Japanese F-2 fighter takes off from a runway at the ASDF's Misawa Air Base in January 2015.

THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN

By JESSE JOHNSON | Japan Times, Tokyo (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 14, 2017

Japan scrambled its fighter jets in response to aircraft approaching its airspace 561 times in the first half of fiscal 2017 through September – 33 fewer than last year's record-setting figure but still the second-highest total ever for the period, the Defense Ministry has said.

While the Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets last year at a record pace as China's military sought to break out farther into the western Pacific, incidents involving Chinese aircraft in this year's first half fell to 287, or 51 percent of the total, down 120 from the previous year.

Despite the fall, the Defense Ministry documented an uptick in "unusual" flights, including an unprecedented military drill in August by Chinese H-6K heavy bombers that took them through the Miyako Strait – between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the East China Sea – to the skies off Kansai's Kii Peninsula for the first time.

The Defense Ministry also cited a drone-like aircraft – discovered in May flying above a Chinese coast guard vessel that had entered Japanese waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea – as one of 14 unusual flights by China, an increase from nine cases last year.

Scrambles against Russian aircraft, meanwhile, jumped to 267, or 48 percent of the total, up 87 times year-on-year in the same period.

Last year, the ASDF scrambled fighters 1,168 times, the most since records began being kept in 1958, besting the previous high of 944 – a figure that came at the height of the Cold War in 1984.

China's military has also sent aircraft, including bombers and fighters, on long-range missions over the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait as well as through the Tsushima Strait from the East China Sea into the Sea of Japan and back.

In July, the Chinese military sent ships and planes through international but politically sensitive waters and airspace near Japan as part of its continuing push to hone its ability to operate farther from its shores.

At the time, the Chinese Defense Ministry said Japan "should not make a fuss about nothing or over-interpret, it will be fine once they get used to it."

China has spent aggressively on modernizing its military, including on developing aircraft carriers, but has also ramped up its training and exercises.

Beijing has blasted Japan for hyping the flights, calling them part of "regular" drills, while Tokyo has said it will keep a steady eye on the "expanding and increasing" actions of the Chinese military in the area.

The drills come amid bad blood between the two Asian rivals as their dispute over the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku Islands continues to bubble. This has prompted concern over the prospects of an accidental clash near the islets, which are known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, which also claims them.

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(c)2017 the Japan Times (Tokyo)
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