Last year witnessed a record 306 Japan scrambled fighter planes respond to Chinese aircraft intrusions, the Defense Ministry's Joint Staff announced Wednesday.
This is the first time scrambles responding to Chinese aircraft have exceeded those against Russian planes. For the 2012 fiscal year, overall scrambles against Russian jets were 248, which is a rise of only one incident from the fiscal year previous.
Air Self-Defense Force scrambles against Chinese planes increase as a result of amplified tensions over the Japanese-governed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea after September, when Tokyo gained effective nationalization of the island chain.
Record Japanese Jets Scrambled
Japan's scramble jets have been prompted amidst China's growing military activities. China declares the islands, which the country calls Diaoyu, theirs, resulting in bilateral friction as they have pressed this claim in recent years.
At only 156, the previous scrambles record against Chinese planes has almost doubled last year, and represents the highest level since the 2001 fiscal year, when the office started announcing figures for each country. In emergency circumstances, jet scrambling is an action taken to prevent intercepting foreign aircraft from intruding in the country's airspace.
In December, a Chinese plane intruded for the first time Japanese airspace over the Senakakus. Since then, Airborne Warning and Control Systems jet operations have been strengthened, along with its E-2C airborne early warning jets.
The ministry plans to keep a close eye on China's actions, it said. While many of the Chinese planes were indeed fighters, precise models were hard to identify by only looking at them, said ministry officials.
Japanese fighter scrambles in response to Chinese aircraft surged every three months beginning last April, increasing initially from 15 to 54 times, then to 91 times and finally 146 times.
The 2012 fiscal year is the first time in 22 years that the number of Japan's total scrambles, buoyed by the responses to Chinese jets, has exceeded 500, to 567. The greatest number of scrambles, since the ministry began compiling them from fiscal 1958, was in fiscal 1984, when 944 occurred at the peak of the Cold War.