Chinese Aircraft Carrier Deployment Prompted Record Japanese Fighter Scrambles

October 17, 2022 4:33 PM
A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) on May 20, 2022. Japanese MoD Photo

In a six-month period from April to September, Japanese fighters scrambled 446 times to intercept threatening aircraft from China and Russia, according to the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
Many of the aircraft intercepted belonged to the air wing embarked on the People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier CNS Liaoning (16).

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled its fighter aircraft 446 times in the first half of the 2022 Japanese fiscal year, in contrast to 390 scrambles in the same period last year, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) in the Ministry of Defense reported on Friday.

The bulk of the scrambles happened because of Chinese aircraft activities, which accounted for 340 scrambles, or 76 percent of the overall total. The scrambles against Chinese aircraft in the first half of FY 2022 also increased by 59 from FY 2021’s total of 281 in the same period.

Flight paths of Chinese and Russian fighters that prompted intercepts from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Japanese MoD Image

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said in a press conference last week that the number of scrambles against Chinese aircraft was relatively high, even compared to recent years, and that the Defense Ministry will continue to closely monitor the activities of Chinese aircraft.

Russia accounted for 95 scrambles for the first half of FY 2022, down from a total of 102 in the first half of FY 2021, The remaining 11 scrambles for the first half of FY 2022 were grouped together as others, with no details given.

In the appendix of the release, the JSO listed 20 specific days with events that caused JASDF aircraft to scramble. Eleven of those days had scrambles in response to J-15 fighter aircraft launched from Liaoning from May 3 to May 15. The Liaoning Carrier Strike Group was conducting drills around Japan in that period, with the then Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi saying at the time that fighters and helicopters from Liaoning launched more than 100 times around Japan so far. The carrier was mostly operating near the disputed Senkaku Islands near Taiwan on the edge of the South China Sea at the time.

Russia was listed for only two days. One of the days was May 24, when a joint Russian-Chinese bomber flight by four Chinese H-6 bombers and 2 Russian Tu-95 bombers flew from the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and into the Pacific Ocean before returning the same way. On the same day a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance plane flew over the Sea of Japan. The second instance was on June 7, when an estimated four Russian aircraft flew over the Sea of Japan. The remaining seven specific days included a mix of Chinese bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and drone flights.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) during a December 2021 deployment. PLAN Photo

The breakdown of scrambles per JASDF Air Districts for the first half of FY 2022 was 70 for the Northern Air District, 9 for the Central Air District, 58 for the Western Air District and 309 for the Southwest Air District, according to the JSO release. A map of flight patterns of Chinese and Russian aircraft showed Chinese aircraft mainly operating around Southwest Japan, near the disputed Senkaku Islands administered by Japan, and flying over the Miyako Strait, while Russian aircraft flew north of Japan, along the Sea of Japan, in the southwest and flying over the Miyako Strait.

Russian and Chinese ships transited Japanese straits in the past week, with the JSO issuing a news release last week saying that a PLAN destroyer was sighted sailing south on Oct. 10 in an area 105 miles north of Miyako Island. Japan identified that PLAN ship as CNS Taiyuan (131). The destroyer subsequently sailed southeast through the Miyako Strait into the Pacific Ocean. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Inazuma (DD-105), replenishment ship JS Omi (AOE-426), a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 1 based at JMSDF Kanoya Air Base, Kyushu, and a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA of Fleet Air Wing 5 based at Naha Air Base, Okinawa shadowed the PLAN ship, the release added.

Meanwhile, on Friday the JSO issued a news release that said a Russian corvette and a Gorin-class tugboat were sighted on Thursday sailing west in an area 100 miles east of Cape Soya. The hull number and image provided identified the corvette as RFS MPK-82 (375). The two Russian ships then sailed west through La Pérouse Strait while JMSDF fast attack craft JS Kumataka (PG-827) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 2 operating from JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base, Honshu, monitored.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox