U.S. Air Force F-15Cs Have Started Leaving Kadena Air Base

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron takes off at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Dec. 1, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Moses Taylor)

After Lakenheath’s Eagles, now also Kadena’s are returning to the United States to be reassigned to Air National Guard units or stored.

Kadena Air Base, Japan, bid farewell to the first wave of F-15 Eagles that left the 18th Wing on December 1, 2022 and returned to the United States. This marked the first departure of Eagles as a part of their phased withdrawal from Kadena announced about a month ago, following the withdrawal of the F-15C/Ds from RAF Lakenheath, UK, earlier this year.

The jets travelled Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base, Oregon, from where some will be moved to various Air National Guard units, while others will go to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group for storage. As part of its modernization plan, the U.S. Air Force is retiring the aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagle aircraft that have been in service for more than four decades.

“This is the beginning of a significant journey for the 18th Wing,” said Brig. Gen. David S. Eaglin, 18th Wing commander. “This is going to take us from where we are today to a better place in the future where we will have modernized fighters here at Kadena to better protect our allies and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The 18th Wing received its first F-15C on Sept. 29, 1979, with total of around 48 aircraft assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron “Vampires” and the 67th Fighter Squadron “Fighting Cocks.” Of these, eight were shown departing Kadena in the photos released by the Air Force, but it is being reported that a total of ten aircraft arrived to Kingsley Field after a stop at Hickam AFB.

U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles assigned to the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons await clearance for their last take-off from Kadena Air Base, Japan, Dec. 1, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessi Roth)

The Department of Defense said it will continue to maintain a steady-state fighter presence at Kadena by temporarily deploying newer and more advanced aircraft to backfill the F-15s as they retrograde to the U.S. According to 18th Wing leadership, the departure of this first batch of Eagles marks a poignant but necessary step in ensuring Team Kadena remains poised to defend Japan and maintain regional stability.

“While I’m sad to see the F-15 go, it’s important to maintain an advanced fighter presence here in Okinawa,” Eaglin said. “Our adversaries have advanced and progressed since 1979 and we must do the same. I look forward to the future as we work through the challenges of divesting an airframe that served admirably as we modernize our defenses and evolve to the threats we face today.”

In a statement issued to the media, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the phased withdrawal of the F-15s will take place in waves over two years. Stefanek also said the Air Force will rotate fourth- and fifth-generation fighters to take their place while the Department of Defense works on a long-term, permanent plan for Kadena, in order to “maintain regional deterrence and bolster our ability to uphold our treaty obligations to Japan.”

As of Dec. 6, 2022, 14 Kadena F-15 Eagles were accepted at Kingsley: seven will be dispatched to new homes across the nation, including guard units in California, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. Four of them will retire to the Boneyard and three of them will call the 173rd Fighter Wing home.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.