The front cover of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14th 2011

The front cover of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14th 2011

The first headline above the fold on the cover of this morning’s Asahi Shimbun read: “Scrambles Against China Triple”. The news received widespread coverage, and was covered in English over at the WSJ’s Japan Realtime blog:

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force has scrambled 83 times in the first half of the year to check out military aircraft from China buzzing Japan’s air space, according to the Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff Council on Thursday, more than triple the amount compared to the same six-month period in 2010.

It’s another reminder of how fraught Japan-China relations have become over a disputed archipelago in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Japanese intercepts of Chinese planes occurred a total 96 times in the whole of last year, and just once in the first half of 2008.

Read more at WSJ: Japan Realtime

The graph below, reproduced from the Asahi print edition, shows just how significant the growth in scrambles against Chinese aircraft has become, jumping in the latter half of FY2010. The first half of FY2011 saw the largest number of scrambles since FY2003 – last year as a whole saw the largest number of scrambles in 15 years, and it looks set to be blown out of the water this year if the current figures repeat themselves. The figures show a growing parity in recent years between Russian and Chinese provocation against Japanese airspace, demonstrating the strains in the relationships between Japan and China.It is also interesting to note the year of decreased Russian activity.

Adapted from Asahi Shimbun chart

Adapted from Asahi Shimbun chart

What are we to make of all this? Well, clearly, the headlines are hiding the fact that the scrambles had already significantly increased in the last half-year period from Oct 2010-Mar 2011. It may even show a greater degree of capability (generally or locally) on the Chinese side. It also shows that the Chinese have no qualms about provocation when they have a territorial claim at stake – but we already knew that.

Below the fold, the Asahi also reported on a press overflight of the disputed Senkaku islands in an MSDF P-3C with the headline, “Around the Senkakus, Number of Ships Increased.”

The figures for the latter half of FY2011 will be released in April next year, but it is safe to say that you won’t have to wait that long to hear another story of the ASDF being scrambled – the last six months saw more scrambles than there were days.

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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