South Korea scrambles jets to intercept Russia-China joint air patrol

South Korean officials have announced they were forced to scramble fighter jets after a joint Russian and Chinese air patrol entered its air defense zone.
Christopher McFadden
Republic of Korea Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jets performing an “elephant walk” at Kunsan Air Base in 2012.

대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces/Wikimedia Commons 

Reuters has reported that South Korea has scrambled fighter jets in response to a joint air patrol conducted by Russian and Chinese forces. The joint aerial exercise is the sixth in the last few years, with the first conducted in 2019. China’s defense ministry said the patrol was part of the two militaries’ annual cooperation plan.

According to South Korean military officials, the Russian-Chinese force comprised four Russian and four Chinese military aircraft that entered South Korea's air defense zone in the south and east of the peninsula. An air defense zone is an area where foreign aircraft must take specific measures to identify themselves, as the hosting country demands. This is distinct from a country's airspace – which refers to the air above its territorial waters and territory – as there are no global regulations governing air defense zones.

Moreover, this isn't the first time Korean airplanes had to be scrambled in response to such an action. During China and Russia's joint aerial patrol last November, South Korea had to respond by scrambling fighter jets as Chinese H-6K bombers, Russian TU-95 bombers, and SU-35 fighter jets entered its Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ). Recently, Japanese fighter jets were sent out to intercept Chinese bombers and two Russian drones that had entered the Sea of Japan.

China-Russia patrols

China and Russia have been conducting joint aerial patrols for a while now, even before Russia's intervention in Ukraine and the formation of the "no-limits" partnership between Beijing and Moscow. This partnership has been nurtured due to a shared sense of perceived threat from the United States and other military alliances, contributing to strengthening their bilateral ties.

During the May 2022 patrols, warplanes from China and Russia came close to Japan's airspace while Tokyo was hosting a Quad summit with the leaders of the United States, India, and Australia. Even though China clarified that the flights were not meant to target third parties, Japan was still alarmed by the situation.

The United States and its allies have conducted more military drills in the region in response to China's growing military assertiveness. Recently, the coast guards of the United States, Japan, and the Philippines held their initial trilateral naval exercise in the South China Sea.

On Monday, the White House expressed concern over recent incidents involving U.S. and Chinese military forces in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The increasing aggressiveness of Beijing's military poses a risk of potential accidents that harm individuals.

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