NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled Monday from an Air-Self Defense Force base in Okinawa Prefecture as a real mission interrupted a training session that was being held for the media.
At the ASDF’s Naha base, the pilots and maintenance crew on show dramatically rushed to a hangar where the F-15s were parked Monday morning, as sirens wailed and the doors of the facility began to slide open.
In response to China’s growing assertiveness in the far-flung area, the SDF has been beefing its presence, especially around the Nansei Island chain, which stretches southwest from Kyushu and includes Okinawa and the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.
The Senkakus, a small group of islets in the East China Sea just off Taiwan, are at the heart of bilateral tensions with China. Both Taiwan and China claim sovereignty over the islets.
The number of SDF fighter jets scrambled to deal with Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace reached a quarterly record of 164 from October to December last year, or nearly twice a day, according to the Defense Ministry. So the SDF is planning to have two squadrons instead of one deployed at the base in fiscal 2015.
Although Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over the Senkaku Islands since Japan effectively nationalized them in the fall of 2012, efforts are under way to launch a crisis management mechanism to prevent accidental conflicts.