The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) announced the retirement of the 301 Hikotai, the last squadron operating the McDonnell Douglas F-4EJ Phantom II. It marks the end of 48 years of service for the fighters in the defense of Japan.

The 301 Hikotai Tactical Fighter Squadron was the last to operate the legendary fighter jet. The squadron was deactivated by the Japanese general staff along with its aircraft. It could return in the future, but this time flying the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jet. The technological leap between the two aircraft would be quite huge, as 55 years separate their introduction.

In 1968, 140 F-4E “Phantom II” were ordered for the Kōkū Jieitai, the Japan Air Self Defense Force. Deliveries started in 1971, with an initial pair of standard F-4E fighters. The following 138 were manufactured under license by Mitsubishi and Kawasaki as the F-4EJ, a specific variant adapted to local needs. The fighters were not equipped with a refueling probe and lacked most of the ground attack systems, in accordance with the various restrictions imposed on the Japanese armed forces. In the 1980s, they were modernized to the Kai standard, which the 301 Hikotai was the first to operate. 

Initially scheduled to fly until 2021, the squadron announced on November 20, 2020, that their aircraft would be retiring. A handful will remain in service until Spring 2021. They will be operated by the Air Development and Test Wing in Gifu Prefecture, which will be using them as a flight test support platform.

On December 1, 2019, the last edition of the traditional airshow of the Hyakuri Air Base served as a farewell ceremony for the F-4EJ Phantom II and paid homage to the 48 years of service of this legendary aircraft within the JASDF Air Defense Command. For the occasion, several fighter jets were adorned with unique liveries. Take a look at our exclusive pictures from the event.

(Image credit: Louis Laisement)