PHOTOS: Kadena Flexes Airpower with Air Force and Navy Aircraft in Elephant Walk

The U.S. Air Force and Navy both contributed aircraft to an impressive 33-plane “elephant walk” on the runway of Kadena Air Base in Japan on Nov. 21.

The nearly three dozen aircraft included nine different types, showing off the range of capabilities at the base, which has a fleet of more than 100 planes either based or stationed there.

At the forefront stood two HH-60G Pave Hawks helicopters, used for combat search and rescue, and an MQ-9 Reaper drone. Behind them, a formation of fighter and attack aircraft included USAF F-15s and F-35s, as well as USN E/A-18G Growlers.

In the backdrop, larger aircraft included the RC-135 Rivet Joint, used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and the aerial refueler KC-135.

Kadena just welcomed additional F-35 fighters from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on Nov. 20, reinforcing the base’s fifth-generation airpower capabilities.

The freshly arrived jets joined F-35s from the 356th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, which began operating from Kadena in March.

The base also received F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; and the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and F-15C Eagles from the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing and the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing.

These fighter jets represent the latest in a series of aircraft rotating through Kadena as the base’s local F-15C/D fleet phases out due to old age.

Kadena has operated F-15C/Ds since 1979. Before the drawdown, about 48 of the aircraft were permanently based there, distributed across two squadrons.

An MQ-9 Reaper, which arrived at the base for the first time last month, was also included in the lineup.

Kadena welcomed the Reaper’s arrival on Oct. 13, which was previously deployed to Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kanoya Air Base, Japan

This was the first of several MQ-9s deploying to Kadena to strengthen regional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in support of the U.S-Japan alliance.

The full roster of aircraft included:


  • 14 F-35s
  • 10 F-15s
  • Two HH-60G helicopters
  • One RC-135 Rivet Joint
  • One KC-135 tanker
  • One MQ-9 drone
  • One E-3 AWACS


  • One P-8A Poseidon
  • Two E/A-18G Growlers

Kadena, known as the Keystone of the Pacific, offers access to various potential hotspots throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Located on Okinawa, a southern Japanese island only about 400 miles east of Taiwan, it could be a vital staging ground for the U.S. response if the People’s Republic of China were to invade Taiwan.