Flashpoints | Security | East Asia

South Korea Scrambles Fighter Jets Against Russian Bombers

Six Russian military aircraft were reportedly intercepted by South Korean fighter jets after they reportedly entered South Korea’s air space identification zone.

Franz-Stefan Gady
South Korea Scrambles Fighter Jets Against Russian Bombers
Credit: Royal Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) scrambled fighter jets in response to six Russian military aircraft repeatedly entering the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) on October 22, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

A Russian Air Force Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, two nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers, and three Sukhoi Su-27 air superiority fighters repeatedly began entering the KADIZ at 9:23am local time north of Ulleungdo Island in the Sea of Japan prompting the ROKAF to scramble an undisclosed number of KF-16 and F-15K Slam Eagle fighters to intercept and escort the Russian aircraft.

“Our military urgently dispatched fighter jets to track and monitor the aircraft and broadcast warning messages,” the JCS said in a statement cited by Reuters. This marked the 20th breach of the KADIZ without prior notice by a Russian military aircraft. Air defense identification zones are not considered sovereign or territorial airspace.

For the first time in decades, a Russian military aircraft — a Beriev A-50–violated South Korean airspace earlier this year in July. According to the JCS, the aircraft twice violated South Korean airspace over the Dokdo islets. The ROKAF scrambled F-15Ks and F-16Ks in response and fired 20 flares and 360 machine gun rounds as warning shots after the A-50 purportedly ignored repeated radio warnings.

Russia protested against the ROKAF’s behavior and rejected the accusation that the aircraft had violated South Korean airspace. ”The South Korean pilots did not establish communications with the crews of Tu-95MS, fired flares and then the F-16s conducted another maneuver, retreating away from the Russian planes,” the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement at the time.

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

The incident occurred during the first joint strategic air patrol of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Russian Air Force in East Asia. Two PLAAF Xian H-6K long-range bombers joined two Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers in a flight over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea. The aim of the first-ever joint Sino-Russian aerial patrol in East Asia was to “strengthen global strategic stability,” according to the Russian MoD.

At the time, the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) also scrambled fighter jets in response to the joint air patrol to intercept and escort the Chinese and Russian bombers. Two Tu-95MS strategic bombers violated Japan’s airspace off the Japanese island of Minamidaitō southeast of Okinawa and off Hachijō island in the Philippine Sea on June 20, according to the Japanese MoD.

The JASDF reportedly also scrambled F-2 fighters in response to the Russian flights over the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea on October 22.