Fri, Apr 14, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Japan scrambling jets at record pace

Reuters, TOKYO

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15 jet scrambles at Naha Air Base on Okinawa yesterday.

Photo: Reuters/Kyodo

Japan scrambled fighter jets to chase away foreign aircraft at a record pace in the year to March 31, government data showed yesterday, as Chinese military activity around the East China Sea escalated.

Japan worries that China’s probing of its air defenses is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and Western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400km south toward Taiwan.

“Recently we have seen Chinese military aircraft operating further south and that is bringing them closer to the main Okinawa island and other parts of the island chain,” Japan Self-Defense Forces Chief of Staff Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano told a briefing in Tokyo.

Okinawa is home to the biggest concentration of US Marine Corps forces outside the US, hosting the bulk of the roughly 50,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force reported its fighters scrambled 1,168 times over the 12 months, up from 873 a year earlier.

A record 851 jets headed off approaching Chinese airplanes, 280 more instances than in the corresponding period last year.

The new figure was also well above the previous high of 944 incidents in 1984, when Russian, rather than Chinese, aircraft triggered most of the scrambles.

The uptick in Chinese activity has contributed to rising tension in East Asia since the start of the year, as North Korea pushes ahead with ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests that have stoked fears in Japan, the US and elsewhere.

Japan’s navy plans to join drills around the East China Sea with the US Navy’s USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which is steaming toward the Korean Peninsula, two sources told reporters.

Encounters with Russian aircraft, which are often bombers flying from the north that skirt around Japan’s airspace, rose 4.5 percent, to 301 scrambles, the data showed.

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