The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has flown its final official training sortie with its McDonnell Douglas RF-4EJ tactical reconnaissance aircraft.
The service took to social media to announce that the last training flight had been undertaken by 501 Hikotai (501 Squadron) from Hyakuri air base, Omitama, in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 9.
With the air arm phasing out its Phantom II force, Hyakuri was home to the last of the JASDF’s RF-4s, being home to 501 Hikotai and 301 Hikotai – with the former operating the RF-4E and RF-4EJ and the latter employing the F-4EJ Kai, a fighter variant of the aircraft. The RF-4EJ is visually distinguishable from the RF-4E by its nose, which lacks camera equipment and retains the F-4E gun housing.
Not only does this final training sortie mark the end of JASDF RF-4EJ Kai operations, but it is also a step towards the disbandment of 501 Hikotai by the end of the year.
301 Hikotai is the last operational F-4EJ Kai squadron and is known as the ‘Mother Squadron’ as it was the first JASDF unit to receive the F-4 and its previous role as an operational conversion unit. The squadron is likely to cease operations with the F-4EJ next March. According to AirForces Intelligence, the JASDF operated 11 RF-4EJ and 24 F-4EJs at the start of the year.
The JASDF is replacing its venerable F-4s with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, which was selected in 2011 as the air arm’s desired successor to its Phantom fleet. Japan is looking to acquire a total of 105 F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) examples of the multirole stealth fighter, along with 42 F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) platforms. So far, 14 aircraft have been delivered and are operating from Misawa air base – in the Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan – under 302 Hikotai. In April 2019, an F-35A was lost to attrition off the coast of Japan, along with its pilot.
Follow the link to read more about the Phantom in Japanese service – which has been featured in 'Phantom Survivors' - a supplement in the April issue of Combat Aircraft Journal, which details the world's remaining operational F-4s.