Eight US Air Force (USAF)-operated Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 480th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Warhawks’ of the 52nd Fighter Wing (FW) at Spangdahlem Air Base (AB) in Germany touched down at Kadena AB in Japan on January 16.
The Germany-based suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) unit is in Japan to augment air-to-air capabilities of the deployed Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors from the 3rd FW at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Both units are present at the Okinawa base to provide the required Indo-Pacific fighter capabilities needed during the phased withdrawal of the Kadena-based 18th FW Boeing F-15C/D Eagles, which began in December 2022.
Departing from Spangdahlem AB as 'Jest 11-16' and 'Jest 21-26' on January 11, the F-16CMs routed west to Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, before continuing on to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The F-16s were supported throughout the five-day trip by KC-135R/T Stratotanker, KC-10A Extender and KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft.
Despite 12 F-16CMs leaving Spangdahlem, only eight arrived at Kadena on January 16 – four F-16s remain at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and are due to follow the others to Kadena on a date not yet confirmed. The reason for the four jets remaining in Alaska is also unconfirmed – CAJ did reach out to the 52nd FW at Spangdahlem for comment, but received no reply. The jets may simply be experiencing scheduling or technical issues, or even possibly remaining in Alaska to training alongside the based F-22A Raptors, which they will work alongside in Okinawa.
The eight F-16CMs that arrived at Kadena AB on January 16 were serials: 91-0338 'Jest 11'; 91-0416 'Jest 12'; 91-0417 'Jest 13'; 96-0080 'Jest 14'; 90-0813 'Jest 21'; 91-0342 'Jest 22'; 91-0418 'Jest 23' and 92-3918 'Jest 24'.
The phased F-15C/D Eagle withdrawal is due to conclude in 2024. The deployed fighter units will integrate with the remaining 18th FW Eagles at Kadena to help deter and, if required, respond to acts of aggression from adversaries that might bring instability to the Indo-Pacific region.
The USAF plans to replace the Kadena Eagles with a deployed fighter presence in the Indo-Pacific by deploying aircraft to Kadena on a rotational basis. There is also speculation the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II will be based at Kadena, when it enters operational service but this remains unconfirmed at the time of writing. Col Henry Schantz, commander of 18th Operations Group, said: “These temporary deployments bring a diverse set of platforms to the region and provide the opportunity to integrate, train, and operate with our joint forces and international allies.”