TOKYO (AP) — Japan's government said Wednesday that the number of scrambles by the country's warplanes has surged in recent years to levels nearly matching the Cold War era amid growing activity by China and Russia in the region.
The Self Air-Defense Force scrambled its jets 943 times during the 12-month period through March 31, just one short of the record set in 1984, the Defense Ministry said. The scrambles were dominated by those against Chinese and Russian aircraft.
The ministry reported 133 more scrambles than the previous year, underscoring growing tension in the region.
Chinese aircraft that were targeted by scrambles were mainly fighter jets approaching disputed East China Sea islands, a main source of diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Japanese defense forces scrambled 464 times against Chinese aircraft, up 49 times from a year earlier.
The ministry said none of the Chinese planes violated Japanese airspace.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing to allow Japanese forces a larger role as China's military presence grows in the region, and has stepped up defense of remote islands in southern Japan.
The Defense Ministry said the number of scrambles by Japan's military was as low as 141 in 2004 before the sharp climb over the past decade amid China's growing military activity.
The ministry reported repeated flights by Chinese aircraft near the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, between the East China Sea and the Pacific, seen as part of China's increasing activity to the east.
Russian activity was seen mainly as reconnaissance around Japan in April last year, following North Korea's missile launch in late March and joint military exercises held by the U.S. and South Korea around the same time.