The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled fighter jets to intercept two Sukhoi Su-24 nuclear-capable strike attack aircraft over international waters in the Sea of Japan on January 16, according to the Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD). The Russian aircraft reportedly did not enter Japanese airspace.
The last intercept of a Russian Su-24 strike attack aircraft or fighter-bomber took place in the Sea of Japan on December 19, 2018, which marked the first Russian aerial patrol in close proximity to the Japanese islands following a five-week hiatus.
A previous intercept of a Russian military plane—an Ilyushin Il-38 “Dolphin,” a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft—took place on November 8. Two Russian Ilyushin Il-20 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft were also intercepted on October 19.
Last month, I summarized additional JASDF scrambles against Russian aircraft in 2018:
Another intercept of a Russian air patrol that included a Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E+) multirole fighter jet, one Sukhoi Su-24, and one unidentified plane over the Sea of Japan took place on September 20. The JASDF also scrambled fighter jets to intercept two nuclear-capable Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers and support aircraft in July. The Tu-95MS is an updated variant of the older Tu-95, a Soviet-era four-engine, long-range, turboprop, strategic bomber that can carry stand-off nuclear-capable cruise missiles.
Russia resumed regular long-range patrols in East Asia in 2014 following the deterioration of Russia-Japan diplomatic relations as a result of the war in Eastern Ukraine. 2018 saw an increase in the number of Su-24 used for long-range patrols near Japanese territory.
While the Japanese MOD has not specified the exact variant of Su-24s intercepted by the JASDF this week, it is likely that the two planes were Su-24MPs, the aircraft’s electronic signals intelligence variant. Notably, the presence of Russian military aircraft overall in East Asia has increased in recent years, as I noted in September 2018:
According to the Japanese MoD, the JASDF dispatched interceptor aircraft 904 times in response to unidentified aircraft approaching Japanese airspace during the last fiscal year that ended in March. Out of the total of 904, 500 scrambles occurred in response to Chinese military aircraft and 390 were prompted by Russian military planes. This marks a decline of 41 percent for Chinese military aircraft, but a 29 percent increase of intercepts of Russian planes.
As I reported elsewhere, Japan principally relies on license-built variants of the F-15 and F-16 to conduct scrambles against foreign military aircraft:
The JASDF usually dispatches Mitsubishi F-15J all-weather air superiority fighters, 215 of which — including the upgraded F-15DJ/F-15J Kai variants — are currently operationally deployed with the service.
The JASDF’s other workhorse for interceptor missions is the F-2 multirole fighter jet, a Mitsubishi license-produced variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-16, of which there are currently around 90 officially in service.
In 2016, the JASDF doubled the number of fighter jets dispatched for each intercept of foreign military aircraft approaching Japanese airspace from two to four.
The JASDF also uses F-4EJ/RF-4 Phantom II fighter aircraft to conduct scrambles.