The U.S. military is busy replacing its aging F-15C/D fighter jets at Kadena Air Base in Japan. Since it was announced in 2022, the base has been home to a series of rotating units while the F-15C/D jets are gradually swapped out. It also means that the air base has a varied and vast array of U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft at its disposal. And so the Air Force’s 18th Wing showed them off on Friday in a large “elephant walk.”

The early morning display of power on April 11 (local time for Japan) saw more than three dozen aircraft from the Air Force and Navy gather in formation on a runway before taking off for an aerial exercise. 

Photos shared by the base and posted to the Defense Visual Information Distribution System or DVIDS capture the sheer amount of air power on display. Two HH-60G Pave Hawks and an MQ-9 Reaper drone sit at the front of the convoy, the fighter jets behind them. Larger planes like a pair of KC-135 Stratotankers as well as an E-3 Sentry pick up the year. 

Air Force photo
(photo by Airman 1st Class Catherine Daniel/U.S. Air Force)

The 11 F-22 Raptors were the newest addition, from the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. That was not without incident; one F-22 Raptor apparently suffered a gear issue, leading to its nose scraping against the runway, according to local media

The F-22s, as well as F-16Cs, are rotating in. Meanwhile, F-35As and F-15Cs, the latter from Air National Guard units, are leaving Kadena. Kadena Air Base previously hosted other F-22s and F-16s from other squadrons as part of the ongoing effort to maintain operational capabilities as the F-15C/Ds are removed from the base. 

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Elephant walks date back to World War II, done as a show of force. Although not common, the Air Force has done several at different bases in recent years. In November, Kadena Air Base staged a 33-aircraft elephant walk, showing off the expanding types of aircraft being rotated through the important base. That display included then recently arrived F-35s and a MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Kadena Air Base is one of several American military installations in Japan, and plays a major role in U.S. strategy in east Asia, both in respect to China and North Korea. Along with the American presence in South Korea, U.S. forces in Japan have staged exercises and similar displays in attempts at deterrence against Pyongyang. North Korea has fired multiple missiles in tests in the last month. This past week North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warned North Korea would “deal a death blow to the enemy without hesitation by mobilizing all means in its possession” if an active conflict broke out. At the same time, the U.S., Japan and South Korea started a new joint military exercise.

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