National

Air Self-Defense Force jets scrambled as Russian bombers and fighters skirt Japanese coasts

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets were scrambled to intercept four nuclear-capable Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers and four Sukhoi Su-35S multirole fighter jets flying in two separate formations over the east and west coasts of Japan on Friday, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said one formation consisted of two Tu-95MS bombers and the four fighter jets over the Sea of Japan, while a separate formation saw the other two Tu-95MS enter the Pacific side of Japan via the Sea of Okhotsk

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the ASDF intercepts took place in international waters and Japanese airspace was reportedly not violated. It said the crews of the bombers spent more than 15 hours in the air and carried out inflight refueling.

While the Russian ministry confirmed that two Tu-95MS bombers and escort aircraft had carried out a “routine flight” over the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Western Pacific, it did not acknowledge the presence of the other two bombers.

Media reports said the presence of eight aircraft Friday represented one of the largest-scale Russian military patrols near Japan since Moscow resumed regular long-range patrols in East Asia in 2014 following a deterioration of Russia-Japan diplomatic relations as a result of the Russian intervention in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia has generally deployed its Tu-95MS bombers in pairs. But in January 2017, it sent three Tu-95 strategic bombers to circumnavigate Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu — flights that were also intercepted and tracked by the ASDF.

Late last month, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced the number of times it had scrambled fighters in the third fiscal quarter, with Russian incursions invoking such a response 270 times, or 36 percent of the total, 58 times fewer than the same time the previous year.