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Chinese drone flights rise near Japanese airspace in last 1 1/2 yrs

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
February 28, 2023

Drones from China have caused the Air Self-Defense Force to scramble jets 12 times since August 2021. In the eight years before then, dating to September 2013, the ASDF only had three such scrambles. China’s rapid increase in drone flights in the East China Sea and its vicinity are believed to be laying the groundwork for a Taiwan contingency. According to the Defense Ministry, the ASDF scrambles jets when there is a threat of airspace violations based on an analysis of flight routes. Chinese drones have been confirmed over the East China Sea “almost every day in recent years,” a senior ministry official said. The ASDF made its first scramble against a Chinese drone in September 2013, then did so again in May 2017 and April 2018. There were no such scrambles in 2019 or 2020. In May 2017, a drone believed to be from the China Coast Guard violated Japanese airspace by entering the skies over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

In the summer of 2021, China stepped up military exercises in anticipation of a Taiwan contingency. In August 2021 as well as July and August 2022, a TB-001 combat drone took a flight path to the Pacific Ocean through the Miyako Strait, which is situated between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture. In January this year, a WZ-7 reconnaissance drone, which is capable of high-altitude, long-endurance flight, was also confirmed to have flown over the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Such flights appear to be in line with the Chinese military’s anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) framework, which is intended for contingencies such as that involving Taiwan. It is believed that China has conducted exercises with the assumption that the TB-001 conducts missile attacks against U.S. warships and other military targets, while the WZ-7 drone tails them.

This month, the Defense Ministry said it has reason to believe that three balloons that had intruded into Japanese airspace between 2019 and 2021 were used for reconnaissance by China. In preparation for an airspace violation by a balloon or drone, the ministry has eased the criteria for the use of weapons by the Self-Defense Forces, allowing them to shoot down such an unmanned object even if the action does not fall under the right of self-defense or an act of necessity. In the incursion over the Senkakus that occurred in May 2017, the drone left Japanese airspace after staying there for about five minutes. However, if a drone remains over the Senkaku Islands or other areas for longer periods of time, the government will be forced to make a difficult decision as to whether to down it. “China is accelerating the operation of drones in preparation for actual combat,” said Shigeki Muto, a retired lieutenant general who served as commander of the Air Defense Command. “There is concern that following intrusions into Japanese waters by Chinese vessels, China could make airspace violations using drones routine, with the aim of exercising effective control of the Senkaku Islands.”


(c) 2023 the Asia News Network

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