Air Force Will Swap in F-15EX and F-35 Fighters on Japan

The U.S. Air Force will shift and upgrade its fighter presence in Japan, placing F-15EXs at Kadena Air Base and F-35s at Misawa Air Base, the Pentagon announced July 3. 

The announcement comes more than a year and a half after the Air Force announced it would start bringing home the 48 F-15C/D Eagles at Kadena Air Base, without naming a permanent replacement. 

The F-15EX, a much upgraded version of the F-15, was long seen as the likely replacement at Kadena but had not been confirmed to this point. 

Misawa, which currently hosts F-16s, is the first announced foreign air base in the Indo-Pacific to host USAF F-35 fighters, and just the second overall, after RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. 

The number of fighter aircraft at each base will shift. Kadena will go from 48 to 36, while Misawa will go from 36 to 48. 

A Department of Defense release did not specify a timeline for either base’s transition. The Air Force has already announced several planned locations for the F-15EX and F-35, and it is unclear if the Japanese bases will jump them in line to get new aircraft. 

In the interim, fourth- and fifth-generation fighters will continue to rotate through Kadena. Located just 400 miles from Taiwan, Kadena is a key strategic location and can swiftly deploy fighters for Pacific Air Forces exercises. F-15s have been at the base, on the island of Okinawa, since the 1980s.  

Most recently, the base has hosted F-22s from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., as well as F-16s from the South Dakota Air National Guard’s 114th Fighter Wing and from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing. 

Misawa, by contrast, is located at the far north end of Honshu, Japan’s main island, and is closer to North Korea and Russia than China. It is more than 1,500 miles from Taiwan. 

The Pentagon also announced that the Marine Corps will adjust the number of F-35Bs it hosts at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. 

“The Department’s plan to station the Joint Force’s most advanced tactical aircraft in Japan demonstrates the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and both countries’ shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Pentagon said in a release. 

F-15EX Locations 

  • Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. 
  • Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. 
  • Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La. (planned) 
  • Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif. (planned)

F-35 Locations 

  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska  
  • Hill Air Force Base, Utah  
  • Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.  
  • Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.  
  • RAF Lakenheath, U.K.  
  • Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. 
  • Truax Field, Wisc. 
  • Dannelly Field, Ala. 
  • Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. 
  • Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt. 
  • Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas (planned) 
  • Jacksonville Air National Guard Base, Fla. (planned) 
  • Kingsley Field, Ore. (planned) 
  • Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. (planned) 
  • Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (planned)