Three dozen aircraft assembled on the flight line for an “elephant walk” at Kadena Air Base, Japan, on Nov. 22, in a show of air power.
The capabilities demonstration included six different kinds of aircraft, all stationed at Kadena at the moment—F-15C Eagle and F-22 Raptor fighters, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, a KC-135 Stratotanker, an E-3 Sentry, and an RC-135 Rivet Joint.
According to images shared by Kadena, the exact breakdown of aircraft included in the elephant walk:
- 23 F-15Cs
- Eight F-22s
- Two HH-60Gs
- One E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)
- One KC-135
- One RC-135
All but the F-22s are part of the 18th Wing, Kadena’s host unit, which has roughly 80 aircraft total. The Raptors are from the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and recently deployed to Kadena after the Air Force confirmed that it will be removing the base’s 48 F-15C/D Eagles over the next several years.
The service has said the F-15C/Ds will initially be replaced by a rotation of deployed fighters, while a permanent replacement has not yet been named, though it is likely to be the F-15EX. F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, are expected to follow the F-22s.
The display of air power and capabilities at Kadena came on the same day U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met with his Chinese counterpart, Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe, in Cambodia. During that meeting, Austin called on China “to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan,” according to a Pentagon readout.
Kadena, located on the island of Okinawa, is the Air Force’s closest land-based location to Taiwan, some 450 miles away. China considers Taiwan, a self-governed island, to be part of its territory, and tensions between the U.S. and China over Taiwan have been steadily growing as of late.
A visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this year sparked a series of aggressive exercises by the Chinese around the island, and in June, Australia claimed that a Chinese fighter jet released chaff in front of an Australian P-8, a move the Australian government described as a “dangerous maneuver.”
Austin raised similar concerns in his meeting with Wei, citing “the increasingly dangerous behavior demonstrated by [People’s Liberation Army] aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region that increases the risk of an accident.”
In addition to the Nov. 22 capabilities demonstration, aircraft at Kadena recently participated in Keen Sword 23, a biennial exercise involving the U.S., Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.