Japan Scrambles Fighter Jets to Intercept 2 Russian Military Aircraft

Japanese fighters intercepted two Russian maritime patrol aircraft in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea on May 3.

Japan Scrambles Fighter Jets to Intercept 2 Russian Military Aircraft
Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense

Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) fighter jets intercepted two Russian Tupolev Tu-142MZ maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft conducting a long-range patrol in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea on May 3, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD).

The intercepts occurred over international waters and Japanese airspace was reportedly not violated.

It is unclear whether the long-range patrol by the two Russian aircraft was related to a joint Sino-Russian naval exercises, dubbed Joint Sea 2019, which was held from May 1 to 4 in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea. The exercise comprised anti-submarine warfare and anti-air warfare components and reportedly involved seven Chinese and Russian fixed-wing aircraft. Joint Sea exercises have been held annually since 2012.

The JASDF conducted 343 scrambles against Russian military planes in fiscal year 2018, which ended in March. This marks a decline in comparison to fiscal year 2017, when the service scrambled fighter jets to intercept Russian aircraft 390 times. Russia resumed regular long-range aerial patrols in East Asia in 2014 following an over a decade-long hiatus that began in the 1990s. As I reported last week:

Russian military aircraft conduct most of their missions along the eastern rim of the Sea of Japan and north of Hokaido. Russian long-range bombers have also periodically circumvented the main Japanese islands during long-range patrols.

The JASDF last scrambled fighter jets in March to intercept a Russian Navy Ilyushin Il-38N “Dolphin” maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the Sea of Japan. In February, Japanese fighters conducted a scramble against four nuclear-capable Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers and four Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E+) multirole fighter jets flying in two separate formations over the east and west coasts of Japan.

Russia’s military activities in East Asia have not been without casualties in 2019.

“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 (…),” I reported in February. “Additionally, a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber crashed at Olenegorsk airbase, in Russia’s northwestern region of Murmansk killing three crew members, on January 22.”

Last month, the Russian Pacific Fleet conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia’s Far East and in the Arctic Ocean involving four Ilyushin Il-38/N “Dolphin” maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft on April 30. Along with the Tu-142MZ, the Il-38/N aircraft constitutes the mainstay of  Russian naval aviation anti-submarine warfare assets in the Far East.