Japan Says Bomber Violated Airspace

An Air Force bomber briefly violated Japanese airspace Saturday over an uninhabited island south of Tokyo, prompting Japan to scramble 22 fighter jets and issue a protest to Moscow, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

The Air Force denied that there was an intrusion.

The military last year resumed regular exercises outside Russia's borders in a sign of a revival of its might. NATO defense chiefs asked Russia on Friday for advanced warning of the exercises.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said a Tu-95 left Japanese airspace after three minutes, following warnings by Japanese air force jets over Sofugan in the Izu island chain 650 kilometers south of Tokyo, Foreign Ministry official Kotaro Otsuki said.

The ministry immediately lodged a protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo and demanded an explanation, Otsuki said.

A switchboard operator at the embassy said no one was immediately available to comment.

Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky denied the intrusion and said the flyby was part of a mission over neutral waters, Itar-Tass reported.

Japan's Defense Ministry scrambled 22 fighter jets, including F-15s, and two airborne warning and control aircraft known as AWACs, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. He said the bomber had come from the north and returned north after Japan's warning. Officials did not know why the intrusion happened.

The Air Force last violated Japanese air space in January 2006, when a Russian plane flew over Rebun Island off the coast of Hokkaido, a major island in the north, the ministry said.

In Vilnius on Friday, NATO defense chiefs asked Russia for advanced warning of military exercises, such as bomber sorties, and repeated a call for Moscow to tone down the rhetoric in disputes with NATO members. Japan is not a NATO member.

The issues were brought up by several NATO defense ministers during a cooperation meeting with Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Kolmakov. A NATO spokesman declined to name the ministers who had made the requests to Russia. One alliance source said they represented "northern countries" in the 26-member alliance.

The Air Force cut down on long-distance bomber missions during the 1990s because of a shortage of fuel and serviceable aircraft but resumed them last year. Analysts say the missions are a way for the newly confident and better-funded military to flex its muscles.

On Jan. 22, two bombers flew to the Bay of Biscay, off the coasts of NATO members France and Spain, to test-launch missiles.