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F-22 Raptors first to fill in for F-15 fighters withdrawing from Kadena Air Base

F-22 Raptors at Kadena
F-22A Raptors assignd to the 3rd Wing, taxi into position at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nov. 4, 2022. Photo: US Air Force

US Air Force F-22A Raptors started to arrive at Kadena Air Base, Japan, on November 4, ahead of the start of the phased withdrawal of Kadena’s fleet of F-15C/D Eagles.

The Raptors assigned to the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, will work with local Kadena-based assets to maintain steady-state fighter capabilities at one of its most important strategic bases in the Indo-Pacific.

Kadena is home to close to 50 F-15C/D Eagles assigned to the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons, in addition to KC-135 Stratotankers, E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, as well as Air Force Special Operations Command units.

Raptors started arriving in Kadena after the service announced in late October it would be retiring the aging fleet of F-15 C/D Eagle aircraft that has been in service for more than 30 years.

An F-22A Raptor lands at Kadena Air Base, Japan, on November 5, 2022. Photo: US Air Force

The Pentagon said it would continue to maintain a steady-state presence at Kadena by temporarily deploying newer and more advanced aircraft to backfill the F-15s as they retrograde to the United States.

It is unclear whether the Pentagon would deploy fighter squadrons to Kadena on a permanent basis at a later point in time, or keep rotating assets. Possible contenders for a permanent basing at the largest US Air Force base in East Asia could include the newest variant of the F-15, the F-15EX Eagle II, or the fifth-generation F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.

For decades, Kadena Air Base has served as the keystone of the Pacific. The base’s strategic position makes it a vital staging location for forces to deter regional adversaries and project US airpower throughout the Indo-Pacific.

“Modernizing our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific theater remains a top priority. The transition to more capable aircraft at Kadena exemplifies DOD’s continued commitment to enhancing our posture while building on the strong foundation of our alliance with Japan,” the Air Force said.