WASHINGTON — The Air Force is planning to replace the two squadrons of F-15C Eagle fighters it has stationed at Kadena Air Base in Japan with a rotational force of fighters.

A source familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified because the Pentagon hasn’t yet announced its plans, said the rotational force will be at least a short-term solution to replace the F-15Cs stationed on the Okinawa base as the older fighters are retired.

Kadena now has at least 48 F-15s as part of the 18th Wing’s 44th and 67th fighter squadrons.

The source said the Defense Department hasn’t decided on the longer-term plan for Kadena’s fighter force, and whether the base will stick with having squadrons of fighters rotating through on temporary deployments or whether other fighter units will be permanently deployed.

It will also take a while for Kadena’s F-15Cs to return to the United States, the source said. The Air Force typically flies aircraft back in waves in these situations, and backfills them with rotational forces in the interim.

Financial Times first reported the Air Force’s plan to move to a system of rotational fighter deployments at Kadena.

The Air Force and Pentagon would not comment on the record by press time.

The Air Force is moving to retire large swaths of its aging F-15C fleet, many of which are pushing 40 years old and reaching the end of their lives, and replace them with newly-built F-15EX fighters.

Congress gave the Air Force permission to retire 48 F-15C and D fighters, the service’s full request, as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. The Air Force also wants to cut another 61 F-15Cs in 2023. This would reduce the F-15C fleet to 107, roughly half its 2021 size.

Kadena’s 18th Wing also has E-3 Sentries, KC-135 Stratotankers, and HH-60G Pave Hawks.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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