USAF in Japan gets major fighter upgrades: F-15EX to replace F-15C/D at Kadena, F-35A to replace F-16C/D at Misawa

USAF in Japan gets major fighter upgrades: F-15EX to replace F-15C/D at Kadena, F-35A to replace F-16C/D at Misawa

By Dario Leone
Jul 4 2024
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F-15EX to replace F-15C/D at Kadena, F-35A to replace F-16C/D at Misawa

The Department of Defense (DoD), in close coordination with the Government of Japan, on Jul. 3, 2024 announced a plan to upgrade US tactical aircraft laydown across multiple military installations in Japan.

According to the DoD news release, the modernization plan, which will be implemented over the next several years, reflects over $10 billion of capability investments to enhance the US-Japan Alliance, bolster regional deterrence, and strengthen peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US Air Force (USAF) will upgrade its presence at Kadena Air Base by deploying 36 F-15EX aircraft to replace 48 F-15C/D aircraft as part of a planned divestment and modernization. The Joint Force will continue to maintain a rotational presence of 4th and 5th generation tactical aircraft at Kadena Air Base throughout this transition.

USAF in Japan gets major fighter upgrades: F-15EX to replace F-15C/D at Kadena, F-35A to replace F-16C/D at Misawa

The US Air Force will also upgrade its presence at Misawa Air Base from 36 F-16 aircraft to 48 F-35A aircraft, leading to greater tactical aircraft capacity and capability.

USMC to modify the number of F-35B aircraft at MCAS Iwakuni

At Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, the US Marine Corps (USMC) will modify the number of F-35B aircraft to support the Service’s force design modernization implementation. The USMC will continue to maintain an enduring and rotational aircraft presence at MCAS Iwakuni to ensure the necessary capabilities to support the defense of Japan.

The Department’s plan to station the Joint Force’s most advanced tactical aircraft in Japan demonstrates the ironclad US commitment to the defense of Japan and both countries’ shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

F-35 print
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18th Wing modernization plan

The USAF announced the retirement of its aging F-15C/D Eagle fleet at Kadena back in November 2022.

In recognition of the USAF F-15 Eagle’s legacy, the 18th Wing hosted the Kadena Eagle Sunset Celebration, on Apr. 14-15, 2023. As part of its modernization plan, the USAF returned Kadena’s senior fleet of F-15C/D Eagle aircraft back to the US. The decision marks a significant milestone in the history of the base, which has hosted the venerable air superiority fighter since 1979.

As the base progressed through this transitory phase, the US Department of Defense continued to maintain a continuous fighter presence in the region by temporarily deploying newer and more advanced aircraft to backfill the F-15s as they return to the US mainland.

In fact, save for the A-10, the Air Force has had every active type of fighter aircraft cycle through Kadena since 2022: F-15C/Ds, F-15Es, F-16s, F-22s, and F-35s.

F-15 model
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Photo credit: Samuel King Jr. / U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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