Japan scrambled fighter jets against aircraft approaching its airspace 1,004 times in fiscal 2021, an increase from 725 a year ago and hitting the second-highest level on record, despite increased Chinese intelligence activities, the Defense Ministry said Friday.
The figure for scrambles by Air Self-Defense Force jets in the year through March was only the 1,168 cases in fiscal 2016 -- a record high since Japan began to release comparable data in fiscal 1958.
There were 722 scrambles in response to Chinese aircraft, an increase from 458 in the previous year and the second-highest number on record.
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi cited Beijing's intensified activities considered to be intelligence gathering as a factor, adding that such flights had become diversified and sophisticated. Kishi said that in China, moves to rapidly develop unmanned aircraft have been seen.
The Southwestern Air Defense Force was involved in 652 cases by area, the most among the four divisions of the ASDF. The force is headquartered in Okinawa Prefecture and oversees areas including the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
China Coast Guard ships have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the uninhabited Senkakus, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu.
The number of scrambles against Russian airplanes was second after China at 266, up from 258 in fiscal 2020.
Kishi said Moscow has maintained intense activities even at a time when the international community is dealing with Russia's aggression in Ukraine that began in late February.
Russian planes violated Japanese airspace in September and March, both times off Hokkaido, according to the ministry.
The ministry said it had also confirmed a joint flight by Chinese and Russian bombers over the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific in November.
Scrambles are conducted to deter foreign aircraft from entering a nation's airspace.