Tu-95 "Bear" bomber with F-15 fighter escort.

The Bears are back. Once again, Russia sent  Tu-95 (NATO reporting name: Bear) heavy bombers on a highly provocative flight that practically encircled the three major islands of Japan. From Kyodo / Mainichi Daily News:

The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged Thursday that two Tupolev Tu-95MS bombers flew over the Pacific Ocean and other areas for about 19 hours, but stressed they did not violate foreign airspace, the Interfax news agency reported.

A spokesperson for the ministry said the bombers were trailed by a total of 10 jets comprising South Korean air force fighters and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces aircraft during the flight, the report said.

The bombers were patrolling over the high seas and did not breach international laws or violate foreign airspace, the spokesperson said without mentioning detailed flight routes, according to the report.

On Thursday, the Japanese Defense Ministry said two Russian bombers flew around Japan from the south over the Tsushima Strait off Nagasaki Prefecture to the area near the Northern Territories via the Pacific Ocean, and that Air Self-Defense Force fighters were scrambled due to concern that the Russian planes might violate Japanese airspace. (Link)

Another report mentions the planes refueled in midair, probably after they had passed through the Tsushima Strait. Mike Yeo at The Base Leg Blog says the bombers “were likely to be from the 79th or 182nd GBAD/Heavy Bomber Air Regiment based at Ukrainka-Seryshevo.”

This flight profile has been flown before, as the chart below, illustrates. The profile starts in the Sea of Japan, passes through the Tsushima Strait, loops around Okinawa and heads north, passes the Izu peninsula, breaks west north of of Honshu, and then goes back to Russia. The flight reportedly takes 19 hours to complete.

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

The incident reached the highest levels of Japanese government, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura promising the matter would be dealt with “appropriately”. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba called Moscow and complained.

Gemba said he expressed Tokyo’s concern about the flight of two Tupolev Tu-95MS bombers around the Japanese mainland on Thursday, in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. (Link)

Lavrov’s first question was probably, “Gemba who?” but he took the call.

Thursday’s flight had aroused “suspicion among the Japanese people about its intentions,” Gemba told a news conference. “I requested that (Russia) refrain from taking provocative action.”

Lavrov pointed out that the flight did not breach international law as the aircraft did not enter Japanese airspace but added that Moscow was ready to provide information to Tokyo “if necessary,” Gemba said.

Generally speaking, this is nothing new. Russian military aircraft have been prompting Japan to scramble fighters since the Cold War. The JASDF scrambles to intercept Russian aircraft almost daily, up to 200 times in 2009. The difference is that not all of the flights are this provocative.

Source: Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2010


Source: Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2010

Whatever the point Russia is trying to make, it’s clear it realizes it can be highly provocative — flying circles around Japan, staging military exercises in the Kurils, and having the Russian president visit the disputed islands — and Japan won’t do anything about it.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch