F-15EX, F-35s heading to Japan as part of new Air Force plan

The Air Force finally has a permanent plan to replace the aging F-15C/D fighter jets stationed in Japan. The service will be phasing out the older model of the aircraft with newer F-15EX Eagle IIs.

The Department of Defense announced on July 3 that 36 F-15EX fighter jets will take the place of the 48 F-15C/Ds assigned to Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa. The 18th Wing, based at Kadena, has been using F-15s for more than 40 years. The F-15EX is the multirole strike fighter jet that is expected to enter operational service this year. As for when the three dozen F-15EXs will arrive at Kadena, the Pentagon was not clear. The military said that the modernization effort, part of a wider investment in the U.S.-Japan alliance, will happen “over the next several years.” 

Additionally, Misawa Air Base in northern Japan will be giving up the 36 F-16s currently stationed there. In their place will be a larger force of 48 F-35A fighter jets. 

“The Department’s plan to station the Joint Force’s most advanced tactical aircraft in Japan demonstrates the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and both countries’ shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Pentagon said in the announcement.

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In 2022, the Air Force announced it would be phasing out the F-15 C/Ds at Kadena Air Base. No permanent replacement was announced at the time. Instead, the Air Force has been rotating in different aircraft in the intervening months. Until the newly announced fighters arrive, the Air Force “will continue to maintain a rotational presence of 4th and 5th generation tactical aircraft at Kadena Air Base throughout this transition,” the Pentagon said. 

Some of the earlier changes at Kadena Air Base were visible in April, when the base staged an “elephant walk” displaying the might of the various aircraft there. Jets from the Air Force and Navy, including F-22 Raptors, F-16Cs, F-35As all gathered on the tarmac, showcasing the range of aircraft in Japan as some fighter jets were rotated out of the country. 

Along with the Air Force’s upgrades to its fighter jets in the country, the Department of Defense also announced that the U.S. Marine Corps will adjust the number of F-35Bs stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, although it did not specify how many. 

Beyond their presence in Japan itself, the squadrons and fighter jets based in the country also participate in joint exercises in East Asia, including bilateral operations over the Korean Peninsula. 

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Nicholas Slayton

Contributing Editor

Nicholas Slayton is a Contributing Editor for Task & Purpose. In addition to covering breaking news, he writes about history, shipwrecks, and the military’s hunt for unidentified anomalous phenomenon (formerly known as UFOs). He currently runs the Task & Purpose West Coast Bureau from Los Angeles.