Japan fighter jet scrambles down by half in April-June

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s fighter jet scrambles in April-June fell by half to 173 times from a year earlier as Tokyo saw a sharp slide in the number of air maneuvers against Russian aircraft, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Scrambles against Russian planes posted a one-off spike in the second quarter of 2014, and the quarterly decline this year does not necessarily mean a slowdown in Russian military activities in the region, a Defense Ministry official said.

Scrambles against Chinese planes rose 10 percent to 114 times in the second quarter, while those against Russian aircraft fell 76 percent to 57 times, the ministry said.

The scramble data release comes a few hours after bills allowing Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense, or militarily aiding a friendly country under attack, were approved by a lower house panel.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government says a tougher security environment surrounding Japan, underscored by an increase in the number of scrambles and North Korea’s nuclear project, calls for a tougher security policy.

In the 2014/15 fiscal year which ended in March, Japan’s fighter jet scrambles reached a level not seen since the height of the Cold War three decades ago due in part to the surge in the number of scrambles against Russian aircraft.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Miral Fahmy