Japan is accusing Russia and China of ratcheting up jet fighter scrambles to a level not seen since the height of the Cold War three decades ago.
It said Russian bombers have been probing its northern skies and Chinese combat aircraft have been intruding into its southern air space, Reuters reported Thursday.
In the year to March 31, Japanese fighters scrambled 944 times, a 16 percent increase from the same period in the previous year, Japan’s Self Defense Force said.
That is the second highest number of encounters ever recorded over a 12-month period since records began in 1958 and only one less than a record 944 scrambles in 1984.
“It represents a sharp increase,” an SDF spokesman told a news briefing.
While not a direct measure of Russian and Chinese military activity, the numbers nonetheless point to an increase in operations by Japan’s two big neighbors.
The spokesman said an increased number of Chinese planes had flown through Japanese air space into the Western Pacific.
Russia’s activity has gathered pace since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year and comes at a time when Japan faces an increasingly assertive China which boosted its defense spending by more than 10 percent this year after a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit rises.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said Russian activity had returned to near Cold-War levels in the past few months.
He said there was a greater Russian presence in both Northeast and Southeast Asia and that Russian Bear bombers and reconnaissance aircraft regularly flew missions in the Sea of Japan and to Alaska and the US West Coast.
Locklear told a Washington congressional hearing Russian warships were deployed in the Asia-Pacific and the expected fielding of Moscow’s new Borei-class submarine later this year and upgrade to land-based ballistic missiles would modernize its nuclear capability in the region.
Russian bombers and patrol planes often enter Japan’s northern air space close to Hokkaido and to four smaller islands claimed by both countries.
Chinese fighter incursions are concentrated in the East China Sea, close to islets claimed by Japan and China.
Japan has increased defense spending — but by a smaller margin than China — to buy longer-range patrol aircraft, cargo jets, helicopter carriers and troop carrying Boeing V-22 Ospreys and Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters.
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