By international standards, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is very busy. It scrambles fighters daily to intercept multiple aircraft penetrating Japan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) – the block of airspace established over, and usually somewhat beyond, a nation’s territory in which any unknown approaching aircraft is sought to be identified. If determined hostile, the aircraft are then turned away or in extremis engaged.

The number of JASDF scrambles to identify unknown ADIZ-penetrating aircraft have steadily risen from about 300 annually in 2012 to a peak of almost 1200 in 2016. In 2017, the number of scrambles declined to around 900: 55% against Chinese intruders and 43% Russian. A broadly similar ratio held up to end of the third quarter of 2018 when there were 758 scrambles, an average of almost three a day. Most Chinese aircraft intercepted are fighters; for Russia, intelligence collector aircraft are the most frequently encountered.

Japan considers China is engaging in a salami-slicing strategy of incremental power projection to gain de facto control of the Senkaku Islands, just as Beijing successfully did in the South China Sea.

The JASDF’s fleet of some 215 F-15J aircraft bears the brunt of scramble tasking. The F-15J is well suited for such air policing tasks, having a fast cruise speed to reach intruding aircraft quickly, a good range and endurance, and reasonable manoeuvrability for close in visual identification of air targets.

Please click here to read the full “Japan’s very busy fighter force” published in The Lowy Interpreter, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.