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Powerful F-15Es Arrive at Kadena as F-22s and F-16s Conclude Operations

F-15E Strike Eagles were sent to Kadena Air Base, Japan in April, joining F-35s to strengthen the Air Force’s fighter fleet on the strategically significant island in the western Pacific. Meanwhile, the F-16CMs and F-22s that were previously stationed at Kadena have returned home, according to their respective home bases. The Air Force is rotating fighters through Kadena as it sends the aging F-15C/D fleet back to the United States after over 40 years of permanent Eagle operations on the island.

Except for the A-10, the Air Force has deployed every active type of fighter aircraft to Kadena in the past five months: F-15C/Ds, F-15Es, F-16s, F-22s, and F-35s. “Enhancing capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region remains a top priority,” stated the 18th Wing of Kadena Air Base in a press release. “The arrival of advanced fighter aircraft at Kadena ensures that the 18th Wing remains ready to provide effective and powerful airpower for the defense of U.S. allies and a free and open Indo-Pacific.” On April 8, F-15Es from the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. landed in Okinawa, according to the Air Force.

On the same day, F-22 Raptors and Airmen from the 525th Fighter Squadron assigned to Kadena returned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. On April 10, F-16CMs from the 480th Fighter Wing went back to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Kadena’s F-15C/D fleet, consisting of two squadrons and 48 aircraft before the reduction began, is gradually being sent to the Boneyard or Air National Guard units.

The Air Force has committed to deploying newer and more advanced fighters to Kadena to compensate for the absence of a permanent presence. In November, the Alaskan F-22s were the first new rotational unit to be stationed on the key southern Japanese island, which is about 450 miles from Taiwan—the nearest U.S. airbase to the self-governing island claimed by China. The F-16CMs joined the Raptors in January 2023. In March, F-35s from the 355th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska were deployed to Kadena. After an overlap of approximately two weeks, the F-16s and F-22s have now departed. The F-22s were initially intended to replace the Eagles as the Air Force’s primary air-to-air fighter, but production was terminated in 2009. Kadena’s F-15s are the only remaining Eagles in service within the Active-Duty force.

A U.S. Air Force crew chief assigned to the 336th Aircraft Maintenance Unit marshals an F-15E Strike Eagle onto the apron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 8, 2023. The Strike Eagles arrived from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, to ensure continuous fighter presence through the phased return of Kadena’s fleet of F-15C/D Eagles to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessi Roth)

F-15Es are multi-role fighters, unlike the original F-15. “The F-15E is a proven combat aircraft that brings some distinct capabilities to our already impressive mix of aircraft here at Kadena,” stated Col. Henry Schantz, 18th Operations Group commander, in a press release. The F-22s had an eventful deployment to the western Pacific, becoming the first fifth-generation fighters to be stationed in Tinian and the Philippines. JBER reported that the aircraft completed 1,100 sorties during their deployment of over four months. The F-16s remained for approximately three months, generating less media attention. The deployment of F-15Es and F-35s—along with the remaining F-15C/Ds—ensures that Kadena will have a combination of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft for the time being.

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