A rotation of US Air Force F-22 Raptor fighters will be temporarily deployed to Japan in order to replace the F-15 fighters that are being phased out. The move is being questioned by US lawmakers.
On October 28, 2022, the 18th Wing of the USAF, housed in Kadena Air Base on Okinawa Island, announced that the two squadrons of aging F-15 fighters based in Japan since 1979 would be progressively phased out over two years, starting on November 1, 2022.
Expected to be retired in the 2020s for some time, the F-15 was instead developed into yet another iteration, named the F-15EX Advanced Eagle, which prompted a needed technological leap for the aging airframe. The F-15EX will progressively replace the aging F-15C/D fleets within the USAF.
The wing added that “newer and more advanced aircraft” would be temporarily deployed to Kadena to fill the capacity gap.
Concerns in the US Congress
The decision was met with interrogations among Republican lawmakers. On November 1, 2022, senators Marco Rubio and Bill Hagerty, and representatives Mike Gallagher and Michael T. McCaul filed an open letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to voice their concerns.
“While we agree with the need to modernize the Air Force’s fleet in order to counter the rising threat of the People’s Liberation Army, we are concerned with reporting that indicates that there will be no permanent presence to replace the Okinawa F-15s,” the letter reads. “Plans to replace permanently-based fighters with rotational forces will lead to a tangible reduction in American forward combat power in the Indo-Pacific, lowering the bar for aggression.”
The F-22 Raptor as a stopgap solution
On November 1, 2022, Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada gave more details on the replacing deployment in a press conference. According to Hamada, a dozen F-22 Raptor fighters will be deployed as the same numbers of F-15C/Ds will be sent back to the United States, as reported by news agency Jiji. The F-22 deployment is expected to last for six months.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which entered service in 2005, is the world’s first mass-produced fifth-generation fighter jet, as well as the first air superiority fighter to use passive stealth technology.
Hamada also said that the rotation will be a temporary measure while the USAF figures out which aircraft to base permanently in Japan instead of the F-15 fleet.