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It’s not only in the Air National Guard that the days of the powerful fighter are now numbered, but also in the Pacific Air Forces. After 43 years of loyal service, the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle will begin its operational retirement from Japan this Tuesday, November 1, 2022. The 18th Wing of the US Air Force, which operates them, is beginning their repatriation to the United States without knowing at this time which aircraft will replace them. The decision must be made by the end of 2023.
The first McDonnell F-15A/B Eagles arrived in 1979 in the ranks of the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons, which make up the 18th Wing’s fighter wing. In both cases, they replaced the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, whose career was quite short since it lasted less than ten years. They were replaced by the more modern McDonnell-Douglas F-15C/D in the mid-1990s.
Unlike other American units deployed in Japan, the 18th Wing fighters have not been seen for a long time as occupying forces. The Japanese public is well aware of the protective role of the 48 F-15C/D Eagle air superiority fighters present at Kadena AB. In particular, they ensure the identification and interception of Chinese and Russian military aircraft in collaboration with the JASDF, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. For many Japanese, the F-15 remains a formidable air defense machine despite its age.
So when the Pentagon decided to phase out all the aircraft of the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons, it was not necessarily well understood by the Japanese forces. Especially since it is not yet known which aircraft will succeed them in the strategic role of air defense of the archipelago. Initially, the Trump administration announced that this role would fall to the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II before the Biden administration took an interest. The latter is now counting on the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II as a natural replacement. We are therefore in a state of limbo; it will be up to the US Congress to decide on the future of the 18th Wing.
This Tuesday, November 1, 2022, the first two aircraft are scheduled to leave for the United States, and more specifically for Davis-Monthan AFB. After being conditioned, they will be stored for a hypothetical resale or scrapping in a few years. The process of withdrawal from service will continue until the end of October 2024. The replacement will then be known.
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