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US F-35s arrive on Okinawa to replace outbound F-15s

A US Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, lands at Kadena Air Base on 28 March 2023. (US Air Force/Airman First Class Alexis Redin)

The United States has deployed a squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters on Okinawa amid the continuing phased withdrawal of ageing Boeing F-15C/Ds from the island.

The US Air Force's (USAF's) 18th Wing on Okinawa said in a statement that F-35As from the 355th Fighter Squadron arrived at Kadena Air Base (AB) from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) on 28 March. Kadena is home to the USAF's 18th Wing and a variety of associated units. These include two F-15 squadrons, which are in the process of being withdrawn to the US, according to data held by Janes.

The 355th Fighter Squadron's deployment is to “ensure continuous fighter presence through the phased return of Kadena's fleet of F-15C/D Eagles to the United States”, the 18th Wing Public Affairs unit said in a statement.

“The squadron plans to rotate personnel and equipment to multiple operating locations to support the theatre Joint Force Air Component Commander and the 18th Wing while maintaining readiness for the high-end fight,” the US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) told Janes.

PACAF, however, declined to specify how many F-35As had been deployed on Okinawa. “For operational security reasons, we cannot provide specific aircraft counts,” a PACAF spokesperson said. “All the F-35A Lightning IIs from the 355th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base scheduled to arrive have done so.”

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