Japan dispatched fighters more often over the past 12 months than at any time since the Cold War ended, according to Japanese government figures, with the sorties mostly engaging Chinese and Russian aircraft.
Tokyo scrambled jets 810 times in the fiscal year ending last month, with more than half aimed at Chinese planes, as the rivals remain locked in a tense standoff over competing territorial claims, the Japanese Ministry of Defense data published on Wednesday showed.
Planes were sent up nine times to ward off North Korean jets, it said.
Total dispatches reached the highest annual count since fiscal 1989, when Japan scrambled jets 812 times, mostly to challenge aircraft from the then-Soviet Union.
Tokyo responded 415 times against Chinese aircraft in the latest fiscal year, up from 306 times in fiscal 2012 and 156 times in fiscal 2011, reflecting the tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies, which both claim islands in the East China Sea, alongside Taiwan.
Japanese jets targeted Russian aircraft 359 times in fiscal 2013, up from 248 times a year earlier, the data showed. The neighbors are also embroiled in territorial disputes. The remainder targeted the North Korean jets and one Taiwanese incursion, with the rest unspecified.
“Japanese scrambles were frequently made against surveillance planes from Russia and fighters from China,” the ministry said.
Chinese planes did not violate Japanese airspace in fiscal 2013, but they were “expanding their area of activity,” it added.
In the past fiscal year, a pair of Russian bombers briefly entered Japan’s airspace.
Chinese government ships and planes have been seen numerous times near the disputed islands since Tokyo nationalized some of them in September 2012, which pushed already shaky relations to their lowest level in years.
The dispute over the islands — known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) in Taiwan — has fueled animosities tied to Japan’s drive across Asia in the first half of the 20th century.
The tensions have seen Tokyo look to its security alliance with the US and boost ties with India, as well as Southeast Asian nations locked in their own territorial conflicts with Beijing over much of the South China Sea.