Flashpoints

Japan Intercepts Russian Spy Plane

Japanese fighters intercepted a Russian Navy maritime patrol aircraft over the Sea of Japan on January 17.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Japan Intercepts Russian Spy Plane
Credit: Japan Ministry of Defense

Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) fighters intercepted a Russian Navy Ilyushin Il-38 “Dolphin” maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the Sea of Japan on January 17, Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a recent statement. The intercept took place in international water and Japanese airspace was reportedly not violated, according to the MoD.

The day before, on January 16, the JASDF scrambled fighter jets to intercept two Sukhoi Su-24 nuclear-capable strike attack aircraft in the Sea of Japan. As I noted last week:

[Another]  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.

Overall, Russia has noticeably stepped up its aerial presence, especially long-range patrols conducted by Su-24MP electronic signals intelligence aircraft, near the Japanese islands in recent months. In December, 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.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

According to the Japanese MoD, fiscal year 2017, which ended in March 2018, saw an uptick of 29 percent when it comes to Russian military aircraft intercepts. Overall, the JASDF had to scramble its fighter jets 390 times during that period to conduct scrambles against Russian military aircraft.

Notably, a pair of Su-34 fighter-bombers crashed into the Sea of Japan after reportedly colliding with each other off the coast in Russia’s Far East on January 18 following the January 16 and 17 aerial patrols. The fighter-bombers were unarmed and flying in close formation. According to the Russian MoD, one of the four crew members aboard the two Su-34s was recovered alive.

Another accident involving Russian military aircraft took place yesterday. On January 22, a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber crashed at Olenegorsk airbase, in Russia’s northwestern region of Murmansk killing three crew members. An official investigation into the causes of the crash is pending.