The following news summary and photographs were obtained from the Japanese language Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbu, and the English language the Japan Times, Asahi Evening News, The Daily Yomiuri and the Mainichi Daily News.
September 7-10, 1976
Entry of the MiG-25
On 6 Sep 1976, at 1:11 pm, four radar sites detected an unidentified aircraft about 300 kilometers northwest of Hakodate, approaching Japan from the direction of Vladivostok. Aircraft speed was 810-km per hour and altitude was 19,000 ft.
At 1:20 pm, two Phantom jets from the ASDF 2d Air Wing at Chitose AB scrambled to intercept the aircraft. In Russian on an international emergency wavelength, the ASDF warned the pilot of the intruding aircraft regarding possible violation of Japanese air space. The pilot did not respond.
At 1:22 pm, the pilot violated Japanese air space in the vicinity of Setana Offing Kokkaido. The aircraft disappeared from the radar screen at 1:26 pm. It reappeared on the radar screen at 1:35 pm, but soon disappeared again.
After nearly missing a Tokyo-bound ANA aircraft which had taken off from Kakodate Airport and after circling the airfield two times, the aircraft landed at 1:57 pm on the third attempt.
Upon landing, the aircraft overshot the runway by about 200 meters and running into the grass, knocked down two monitor antenna (1.5-m high and 10-cm in diameter) and stopped about 10 meters in front of a localizer (directional signal equipment). In the process, both front tires were punctured and the main wheel bent. Around 7:00 pm that night, the aircraft was lifted back up on to the airport apron with the use of two 20-ton cranes and was covered with canvas.
Beginning at 8:00 am on 8 Sept., 20 workers started constructing a makeshift hanger (about 12-m high) out of steel pipe. Workers entered through a special gate and were subjected to body checks as precautions against sabotage. Hakodate police stood guard over the aircraft around the clock.
The Soviet Defector
Name: Lt. Victor Ivanovich Belenko, Soviet Air Force, stationed at Sakharovka AB, Siberia.
Family: Wife Ludmila Petrovna (25), one boy Dmitry (31/2)
The defector reportedly has English capability. He became a member of the Communist Part 2 years ago.
Belenko landed his Mig-25 in Japan without notice. Upon exiting the aircraft, he drew a pistol and fired two warning shots into the air. However, soon surrendered his pistol to airport officials who approached the aircraft. First reports quoted the pilot as requesting that the aircraft be covered with canvas and exclaiming, “That plane is top secret.” Subsequently, the pilot requested political asylum in the United States.
Belenko later explained that the above scenario was an attempt to establish an alibi in case his request for asylum was rejected.
Following his surrender, Belenko was taken into protective custody by Hokkaido police and questioned until 10:00 pm on 6 Sep. According to police, Belenko repeated his wish for political asylum in the US. The pilot was quoted as saying that he took off from an air base in Siberia and decided to make an emergency landing at Hakodate because the plane’s fuel supply was running too low for him to reach his planned destination (unspecified). In another report, Belenko said, “I thought if I could get to Japan I could go to the US and I planned to seek political asylum in the US through Japan two years ago.”
As regards [to] motive, the pilot stated that he decided to forsake his family in the Soviet Union in order to obtain freedom. He is quoted as saying, “There is no difference between the present Soviet Union and Czarist Russia, and there is no freedom in living. I want to go to the US where there is freedom.” He reportedly expressed an eagerness to start a new life in the United States and hopefully engage in aircraft-related work such as flying planes.
Hokkaido police charged Belenko with six cases of violation of the law, including illegally entry into Japan, violating the Immigration and Emigration Control Law, illegal possession of a pistol, violating the Firearms Control Law and abnormal low flying at Hakodate, violating the Aviation Law. Sixteen items of evidence were seized from the pilot. Three of these were later returned to Belenko upon his departure for the US: an identification card, birth certificate, and Soviet Communist Party membership card. The disposition of the remaining items, including the MiG-25, pistol and flying hear was to be decided later.
Belenko spent the evening of 6 Sept. at the Yunokawa Grand Hotel in Hakodate. On the morning of 7 Sep., he was again questioned by police. At about 2:30 pm, the pilot was taken to the GSDF Camp Hakodate where he boarded a helicopter for Chitose AB. At Chitose, he was transferred to a C-1 transport which flew to Iruma AB, escorted by four F-104s. From Iruma AB, he was moved to the Tokyo Water Police Station in Minato-ku.
Following the US decision to grant asylum on Tuesday, 7 Sep., US Embassy officials questioned Belenko on Wednesday evening, 8 Sep., and confirmed the defector’s desire to seek political asylum in the United States.
Also on Wednesday evening, the Japan Defense Agency questioned Belenko for approximately 3 hours until 9:50 pm.
In the course of this interview, it was learned that the pilot originally wanted to land his plane at Chitose Airport, but found that there were low clouds as he approached Hokkaido and that the weather was bad. Belenko was familiar with the layout of Chitose Airport, such as the length of its runways. The pilot then sighted Hakodate Airport while flying along the coast of southwestern Hokkaido at a low altitude and he landed there instead.
It is believe that JDA also asked the pilot the following questions:
When Belenko suddenly dropped altitude upon interception by Japanese Phantoms, could the MiG 25 detect the Phantoms?
Did he escape during flight training with consort planes?
Did he fabricate an alibi, start his engine and take off as a single plane?
What grasp do the Soviet have on Japanese radar?
Information on the aircraft performance of the MiG-25 and other types of aircraft which Belenko has flown.
MiG-25 piloting method.
MiG-25 capability of carrying air-to-air missiles.
Soviet air force pilot training
Work conditions and treatment (salary).
Far East Soviet air force bases and types and number of aircraft stationed.
On Sep. 9th, the Hakodate Public Prosecutor’s Office decided not to indict Belenko because the motive of his flight to Japan deserved humanitarian treatment and because the US had agreed to accept him as a political refugee.
Before Belenko’s departure to the US, a Soviet diplomat was allowed to interview him at about 6:00 pm on the same day. Belenko reportedly started his firm determination to defect to the US. At 7:15 pm on 9 Sep., Belenko boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines flight which left Tokyo International Airport bound for Minneapolis, Minn. Via Los Angeles.
Negotiations With the Soviet Union
The Foreign Ministry reported the illegal entry of the MiG-25 to the Soviet Embassy in Japan on the evening of 6 Se. In response, the Soviets requested 1) the return of aircraft and pilot, 2) an interview with the pilot, and 3), non-violation of the military top secrecy of the aircraft.
The Japanese Government began with a cautious approach to the problem due to scheduled negotiations with the Soviet Union concerning the Kuril Islands. The Japanese Foreign Ministry, however, became increasingly indignant because the Soviets failed to come forth with an apology for the incident and acknowledge their responsibility for supervision of Soviet military personnel. In Japanese eyes, this was a sever breach of etiquette.
Since this was an unprecedented incident in Japan, the Japanese attempted to follow international guidelines. The view was to treat the aircraft and pilot as two separate problems. The question of the pilot was solved with his departure to the US. Up until the last minute, the Japanese had refused to grant the Soviets an interview with the pilot on grounds that Belenko was in protective custody, not imprisonment, and that Belenko did not desire to meet any Soviet personnel.
Perhaps due to nervousness and confusion, there were initial reports that the Japanese Government might immediately return the aircraft to the Soviets “untouched,” or that the aircraft would have to be returned upon Belenko’s departure from Japan.
Originally, only Hokkaido police were allowed to inspect the plane. However, with the increasing anger of the Foreign Ministry engendered by failure to receive an apology from the Soviet Union, JDA officials were finally allowed to inspect the plane. The JDA team, headed by Yasuo Matsui, Deputy Chief of Defense, Air Staff Office, comprised 15 experts in fields such as piloting, electronics, weaponry and maintenance. This investigation team arrived at Kakodate on 7 Sep.
The official position was established that the Soviet request for non-violation of military top secrecy was incomprehensible and invalid, that investigation of the aircraft was necessary as evidence for the case of “Illegal entry,” and that the aircraft would eventually be returned to the Soviet Union within a reasonable time to be determined by diplomatic negotiations.
It was through the intercession of Mr. Umemoto, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Cabinet Secretariat that the Self Defense Forces finally obtained permission to investigate the aircraft. JDA rational for the investigation was as follows:
- In such a case, investigation is international common sense.
- Even if the Japanese returned the aircraft “untouched,” the Soviets would judge that there had been surreptitious investigation and would act accordingly
- Irregardless of Japan-Soviet relations, if no investigation was conducted, it would badly influence US-Japan relations.
- Even if the Japanese aircraft were to be returned,
a. Due to the punctured tires, damaged undercarriage and insufficient length of runway at Hakodate, it would be impossible to fly the MiG-25 back.
b.Therefore, the aircraft would have to be returned by sea route.
c. In order to load it on a ship, the aircraft would have to be dismantled.
d.To accomplish this, the aircraft would have to be removed from the airport.
Negotiations With US And Other Foreign Countries
In the beginning, no foreign countries were allowed access to the aircraft, despite first reports that ‘American technical intelligence specialists have been all over the plane.’ Several foreigners were observed on the roof of the Hakodate Airport terminal building on Sep 7th, taking photographs of the aircraft. At 9:00 am, the same day, three Russians, who identified themselves as correspondents in Japan for the Soviet Government newspaper Izvestia, asked police to let them inspect the MiG-25, but they were refuse on grounds that the aircraft was not under JDA jurisdiction. According to newspaper reports, there was no direct request from the US for access to the aircraft.
JDA officials admitted they would need help in assessing the data obtained from their investigation. They were quoted as saying, “We feel like a novice driver who is given a high-quality foreign-made sports car. Even if we can obtain the plane’s data, we will need the assistance of experts who are fully versed in present-day military aviation technology.”
A Foreign Ministry source speculated that data collected by the Japanese experts could be supplied to the United States as part of Japan-US cooperation under the Japan-US Security Treaty. The same source suggested that Japan would not allow US military experts to inspect the Soviet fighter.