The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled fighter jets to intercept two nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers of the Russian Aerospace Force on October 29, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced in a statement. The JASDF escorted the Russian bombers as they skirted the Japanese islands of Hoshu and Hokkaido on Monday.
The Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged today that Japanese aircraft were escorting “missile-carrying Tupolev-95MS strategic bombers during their flights over international waters of the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean,” according to TASS news agency.
“Two strategic bombers Tupolev-95MS of Russia’s Aerospace Force have carried out routine flights over international waters of the Sea of Japan and the western part of the Pacific Ocean,” the Russian MoD said in a statement. “At certain sections of the route the Tupolev-95MS crews were accompanied by a pair of F-18 fighters (of the U.S. Air Force), and a pair of F-15, F-4 and F-2A fighters (of the Japanese Air Force).”
However, the U.S. Air Force has no F-18 fighter jets stationed in Japan at the moment.
The Tu-95MS is an improved variant of the older Tu-95, a Soviet-era four-engine, long-range, turboprop, strategic bomber that can be armed with a wide range of weapons including stand-off nuclear-capable cruise missiles. The bombers were accompanied by Su-35S fighter jets.
“Long-range aviation crews make regular flights over international waters of the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black Sea, and the Pacific Ocean,” the MoD added. “All flights are in strict accordance with international rules of using airspace, without any violations of the borders of other countries.”
According to the Japanese MoD, Japanese airspace was not trespassed.
Two Tu-95MS strategic bombers and one Ilyushin Il-20 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft last flew along the perimeter of Japanese airspace in April.
According to a Japanese MoD statistic, Russian military aircraft intercepts rose 4.5 percent over the 2016 fiscal year to 301 scrambles. “In comparison, fiscal year 2015 saw 288 JASDF sorties in reaction to Russian military aircraft. With 473 JASDF scrambles, 2014 remains the top year for Russian incursions,” I reported previously. “Overall, the MoD reports that the JASDF scrambled its fighter jets 1,168 times in fiscal year 2016, up from 873 in 2015.”
Russia resumed bomber patrols in the Asia-Pacific following its fallout with the West as a result of the Ukraine crisis in 2014. During the Cold War, Soviet forces flew regular bomber patrols over the Pacific Ocean and inside the Japan-Hawaii-Guam triangle but they were stopped for most of the 1990s and early 2000s. The Russian Aerospace Force is currently standing up a new long-range heavy bomber division consisting of Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 long-range bombers in Russia’s Far East. It is unclear whether the new unit is already operational.