WASHINGTON — The Air Force plans to start withdrawing its two squadrons of F-15C and D Eagle fighters from Kadena Air Base in Japan on Nov. 1.
In a statement issued Friday, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the phased withdrawal of the aging F-15s, which the service is retiring, will take place over two years.
Kadena now has at least 48 F-15s as part of the 18th Wing’s 44th and 67th fighter squadrons. The withdrawal of the F-15s will take place in waves as the older planes fly back to the United States. The Air Force’s F-15Cs and Ds are well into their third decade — some even pushing 40 years — and are nearing the end of their lives.
As the F-15s retire, Stefanek said the Air Force will rotate newer and more advanced fourth- and fifth-generation fighters to take their place. These rotations will be temporary, but Stefanek said the military will “maintain a steady-state presence at Kadena.”
“The U.S. commitment to regional deterrence and the defense of Japan is ironclad,” Stefanek said. “Modernizing our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific theater remains a top priority for the United States. The transition to more capable aircraft at Kadena exemplifies our continued commitment to enhancing our posture and building on the strong foundation of our alliance with Japan.”
The Defense Department hasn’t settled on a long-term plan for Kadena, Stefanek said. But the plans being considered all include fighters with capabilities beyond that of the F-15C and D.
Until the military decides on a permanent solution, Stefanek said it will keep using its global force management process to maintain a “backfill” fighter presence at Kadena to “maintain regional deterrence and bolster our ability to uphold our treaty obligations to Japan.”
The Pentagon is still weighing whether to eventually have squadrons of fighters permanently deployed to Kadena, or to stick with a rotational model. Aircraft being considered to replace the older F-15s include the F-15EX Eagle II — an updated variant of the fourth-generation fighter now under construction with modern avionics and capabilities — or the F-35A.
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.