Japan Scrambling Jets at Cold War Levels

Tokyo reportedly scrambling its fighter jets at record pace in the face of growing incursions.

Japan Scrambling Jets at Cold War Levels
Credit: Ministry of Japan/ Handout

Government statistics suggest Japanese air force jets are scrambling at levels not seen since the Cold War, with Chinese fighters testing its airspace in the southwest and Russian aircraft probing Tokyo in the north, according to Reuters.

According to Japan’s defense ministry, in the nine months ending December 31, fighter jets from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) scrambled 744 times, about a third more than during the same period the previous year. If scrambles continue at their current numbers up until March 31, they would exceed the 944 mark registered in 1984, in the midst of the Cold War.

The ministry’s statistics show that encounters with Chinese aircraft accounted for about half of the nine month total, surging to 164 in the final quarter of 2014, which was the most ever since such records started to be kept in 1958.

Chinese flights have especially increased in and around the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo are locked in a dispute over islands that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu islands.

In their bid to respond to possible territorial incursions by Chinese flights in the southwest, Japan has reportedly thinned out its forces to the country’s north, close to four islands contested by Japan and Russia which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories and Moscow calls the Kuril Islands. But the unexpected resurgence of flights from Russia in the north in response to this has left Tokyo with a dilemma as it is increasingly sandwiched in a two-front struggle. In the last three quarters, Japan’s jets scrambled 369 times to meet Russian planes, four times the number just a decade ago.

The defense ministry releases these statistics every three months. The data for the fourth and last quarter of the year will be complete after March 31.

An ASDF spokesman said that in the wake of the incomplete data, the jury is still out on whether this can be technically regarded as a record year. “With only three quarters of data available, we can’t yet say whether it will be a record year,” the spokesman told reporters.