Japan has twice scrambled fighter aircraft over the past couple of days to intercept four Chinese military aircraft flying near Japan’s southern Okinawa island chain from the East China Sea into the Pacific Ocean. Two Chinese People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF) Shaanxi Y-8J airborne early warning aircraft and two PLANAF Xian H-6G bombers were intercepted by Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) F-15CJs. The Chinese aircraft later returned in the opposite direction.
Japanese airspace was not violated during the flights. The Xian H-6Gs were from the 6th Division/17th Air Regiment at Changzhou/Benniu and Shaanxi Y-8Js from the 2nd Division/4th Air Regiment at Laiyang. They flew through international airspace between the main Japanese island of Okinawa and the smaller Miyako Island in southern Japan.
China has stepped up its patrols in the region in recent years, because of its increasing interest in many of the islands. Japanese fighters have scrambled to intercept Chinese intelligence planes in or around Japan’s airspace a record-breaking 83 times between April and September of this year. It far exceeds the 24 recorded in the first half of 2012 and beats the 72 times JASDF aircraft were scrambled in the second half of 2010, when relations between Japan and China deteriorated after a Chinese trawler rammed two Japan Coast Guard ships near the disputed Senkaku Islands.
The sorties came at a time of increasing tension between China and Japan, which remain in dispute over islands in the East China Sea which lie between Okinawa and Taiwan. Only today, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said when presiding over an inspection of the military : The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe…We will not tolerate a change in the status quo by force. We must conduct all sorts of activities such as surveillance and intelligence for that purpose.”
According to one expert on Chinese strategic affairs, China is now disguising surveillance aircraft in civilian roles in a bid to avoid detection. Alan Warnes