Flashpoints | Security | East Asia

Japan Intercepts Chinese Military Aircraft 523 Times in 9 Months

Japan has seen a rise in the number of Chinese military aircraft approaching Japanese airspace over the last nine months.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Japan Intercepts Chinese Military Aircraft  523 Times in 9 Months
Credit: Japan Ministry of Defense

Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) fighter jets scrambled fighter jets 523 times to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) aircraft between April 1 and December 31, 2019, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in Tokyo announced on January 29.

The 523 scrambles by the JASDF constitute a 9.9 percent increase compared to last year and are the second highest total for the period. The peak year for JASDF scrambles against foreign military aircraft remains 2016 with 1,168 reported sorties. Out of the 1,168 scrambles that year, 851 were conducted against PLAAF and PLANAF aircraft.

As in previous years, most interceptions of Chinese planes took place over the East China Sea. Japan reported an uptick in surveillance missions by Shaanxi Y-9JB (GX-8) electronic warfare and surveillance planes through international airspace between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the East China Sea in June 2019.

The PLAAF and PLANAF also repeatedly flew Xian H-6K long-range bombers and Xian H-6G maritime strike bombers over the Miyako Strait in 2019. The strait is a principal entryway for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) into the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese military aircraft intercepts constitute 70 percent of the total number of JASDF scrambles. 

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

JASDF fighter jets also responded 216 times to  Russian military aircraft approaching Japanese airspace, down from 270 times during the same period in 2018. 

In 2018, 64 percent of the total, or 638 scrambles were against PLAAF and PLANAF aircraft, up from 500 in 2017. The JASDF conducted a total of 343 scrambles in 2018, or 34 percent of the total against Russian military aircraft, down from 390 in 2017.

Russian military aircraft conduct the majority of their missions along the eastern rim of the Sea of Japan and north of Hokkaido. Russian long-range bombers — principally nuclear-capable Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers — have also periodically circumvented the main Japanese islands during long-range patrols.

Russian Air Force aircraft — two Tu-95MS bombers and one Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft — have reportedly also violated Japanese airspace on three occasions between April and December 2019. 

Scrambles against Chinese and Russian military aircraft were conducted by the JASDF’s Northern Air Defense Force, the Western Air Defense Force,  the Central Air Defense Force,, and the Southwestern Composite Air Division.

The JASDF uses Mitsubishi F-15J/Kai all-weather air superiority fighters, F-2 multirole fighter jets, a Mitsubishi license-produced variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-16, and F-4EJ/RF-4 Phantom II fighter aircraft for intercepts.

In total, the JASDF scrambled its fighters 742 times during the last nine months of 2019 in response to foreign aircraft and a total of 983 times between January 1 and December 31, 2019.