Total ASDF Intercepts Since 2010, By Year and Country

Total ASDF Intercepts Since 2010, By Year and Country (Adapted from MOD graph and data)

Last year was a busy year for Japan’s fly-boys, the ASDF, according to NHK today:

The Defense Ministry said the Air Self-Defense Force conducted 386 emergency take-offs in the fiscal year that ended in March. That’s an increase of 87 from the previous fiscal year.

Air Self-Defense Force jets were scrambled 264 times to ward off Russian military and commercial planes. They accounted for 68 percent of the total, the biggest share.

The number of scrambling incidents involving Chinese jets more than doubled from the previous fiscal year to 96, the second largest figure.

[...]The number of emergency take-offs by the Air Self-Defense Force fell sharply after the Cold War, but has been on the rise since fiscal 2005.

This has been well-known among Japan watchers for a while, but it really is shocking just how much of a rise this accounts for on previous years. The graph above (translated and adapted for last year’s data from this page) shows just how significantly the number of intercepts have risen in recent years. What may be surprising is the difference in the length of the flights, where Russia gets away with a lot compared to Japan’s other neighbors, with flights circumnavigating Japan year after year (see the red line on chart below, in comparison to the yellow line depicting Chinese flights). This arrogance is clearly displayed in the high number of intercepts the Russians have caused – especially in a year that saw increasing tension over the Northern Territories.

Russian (red) and Chinese (yellow) flight patterns around Japan

Russian (red) and Chinese (yellow) flight patterns around Japan (Source: Asagumo)

After an eventful year in the East China Sea too, it is also unsurprising that scrambling to intercept Chinese flights have risen too. Japan refuses to allow the Chinese to assert control over the Senkaku islands, and the Okinawan district of the ASDF will undoubtedly remain busy this year.

However, on the whole I think we all hope that this year will be a quieter one for the ASDF who have had their hands full in Tohoku following the earthquake, but it pays to stay pessimistic when it comes to one’s territorial sovereignty, particularly with neighbors like these.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch