The Defense Agency has no plan to replace Air Self-Defense Force F-4 fighters on standby against possible airspace violations, even though their 20mm cannons are empty after a jet accidentally strafed a city in Hokkaido earlier this week, agency Vice Minister Ken Sato said Thursday.

The ASDF has unloaded live rounds from the 20mm cannons on all F-4 EJ Kai fighters deployed nationwide, including those ready for emergency takeoff at bases in Misawa, Aomiri Prefecture and Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, Sato confirmed at a news conference.

The ASDF has already said that an investigation team found a glitch in an electrical circuit of the F-4 jet in question, causing it to inadvertently fire its cannon when the control stick is moved to a certain point.

F-4 jets are deployed in scramble operations against aircraft intruding territorial airspace. As part of responsive action, pilots issue warnings and instructions over radio and with gestures, and fire warning shots.

Sato said that firing warning shots is only one of various means to deal with airspace violations and the ASDF will appropriately respond to such cases with other means available.

In 1987, an ASDF F-4 fighter based in Naha fired warning shots in response to a territorial intrusion by a Soviet jet above Okinawa. Last fiscal year, teams of ASDF jets took off 155 times in scramble operations.

The agency has not yet determined if the malfunction of the F-4 over Hokkaido affects just the fighter in question or the whole F-4 inventory.

Strafed city protests

SAPPORO (Kyodo) The municipal assembly of Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, adopted a resolution Thursday protesting an Air Self-Defense Force fighter’s accidental firing of its 20mm cannon on Monday.

The resolution said, “The city lodges protests against the accident from a viewpoint of protecting citizens’ lives and assets.”

A physical rehabilitation center was among the buildings hit in the western Hokkaido city when 188 rounds from the F-4’s cannon were fired. No one was injured.

As the center is located some 500 meters from a residential area, the resolution said, “It is regrettable that the slightest difference would have caused a disaster, threatening safety and terrifying citizens.”

The plane was participating in shooting drills that involved firing at ground targets, but the rounds were discharged in an area outside the firing range.

The assembly demanded a review of drill zones, including possibly relocating targets. The fighter’s 32-year-old pilot, who has logged about 2,100 hours in the air, has told Defense Agency investigators the rounds were discharged even though a firing safety lock in the fighter had not been released. He reportedly denied the possibility of pilot error.

Investigators said problems in the electrical system of the fighter’s control column apparently caused the firing.

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