More F-35s Arrive in Okinawa, Bolstering 5th-Gen Forces Near Taiwan

F-35 fighters from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, arrived in Japan Nov. 20, bolstering the fifth-generation airpower at Kadena Air Base and maintaining the steady rotation of fighters there in place of retiring F-15C/Ds. 

The 18th Wing at Kadena did not disclose the exact number of aircraft. The base said the new jets, from the 4th Fighter Squadron, join F-35s from the 356th Fighter Squadron already at Kadena, the base said in a release. The 356th jets arrrived in Japan from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in March. 

Ever since the Air Force announced in October 2022 that it was returning home all 48 of Kadena’s aging F-15C/D aircraft after more than 40 years of continuous Eagle operations there, USAF has been rotating fighter units to the base. That has ensured continuous U.S. jet fighter presence in Okinawa, a strategically important location just 400 miles east of Taiwan. 

Kadena has hosted every fighter type but one in the Air Force inventory since then, with the sole exception being the A-10. In addition to the F-35s there now, the base has hosted: 

  • F-22 Raptors from the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 
  • F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 480th Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany 
  • F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. 
  • F-15E Strike Eagles from the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho 
  • F-15C Eagles from the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing
  • F-15C Eagles from the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing 

The F-22s and F-16s have since departed Kadena. Air & Space Forces Magazine previously reported that all the local F-15Cs and Ds were due to be sent back to Air National Guard units or the Boneyard in Arizona by September, but the 18th Wing has declined to confirm departure timelines or aircraft counts. 

Kadena’s proximity to China and Taiwan make it a vital position and potential staging ground for U.S. operations in case of conflict with the People’s Republic of China over Taiwan. Known as the “Keystone of the Pacific,” the base hosts aerial refueling tankers, command and control aircraft, and rescue helicopters in addition to fighters.  

“With this deployment, our squadron will continue Team Kadena’s work of strengthening our interoperability with our allies and bilateral partners,” Lt. Col. Jondavid Hertzel, 4th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a statement. “We look forward to exchanging experience, tactics, and techniques with the variety of flying units at Kadena, to strengthen our deterrence measures, and add more versatility to the Indo-Pacific theater.” 

The 4th Fighter Squadron’s presence at Kadena marks a homecoming of sorts for the unit—the squadron can trace its lineage back to the 4th Fighter Squadron (All Weather), which was stationed at Naha Air Base on Okinawa in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was there that the unit got its nickname, the “Fightin’ Fuujins,” after the Japanese god of wind.