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.
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.
Since 2016, the JASDF have often launched four aircraft for each scramble. The front two aircraft undertake visual identification, while the two rear aircraft manage any additional intruders that join in and try to interfere. Scrambles now may also use E-2C airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to coordinate the intercept, sanitize the airspace and avoid tactical surprise. The JASDF is taking its daily scrambles very seriously.
These daily scrambles are gradually wearing the F-15J fleet out. The concern is that China has some six times more fighters then the JASDF, and could further ramp up intrusions whenever it considers appropriate. The in-service life of Japan’s F-15J fleet is now almost a decision that lies with China. The easiest solution seems reducing the number of scrambles undertaken but that would be a major strategic shift. (end of excerpt)
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