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Changing the guard: Concern over US withdrawal of F-15 jets from Okinawa

The withdrawal from Okinawa of two USAF squadrons equipped with F-15C Eagles has alarmed US Republican lawmakers who said the move could embolden a militarily resurgent China. (US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt Kyle Johnson)

The withdrawal of two squadrons of US Air Force (USAF) Boeing F-15C fighter jets from Okinawa has prompted concerns of a decline in US force capability in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) announced the withdrawal in a statement on 28 October. “Starting in November [2022] the Department of Defense will commence a phased withdrawal of F-15 C/D aircraft forward-deployed to Kadena Air Base over the next two years,” the PACAF said.

In their place, the US government has announced a plan to deploy more modern combat aircraft, albeit on a rotational basis. US lawmakers said on 1 November that the F-15C/Ds are “to be replaced initially by fifth-generation [Lockheed Martin] F-22 Raptors in six-month rotations from Alaska”.

The PACAF told Janes that the move to retire the F-15 C/D Eagle fleet has been prompted by “an increasingly severe security environment” around Japan.

“In order to enhance the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-US Alliance, Japanese and US forces need to enhance capabilities through modernising various equipment,” a PACAF spokesperson told Janes.

The spokesperson added that the F-15C/D fleet has been due for retirement because it has been “in service for more than 30 years”.

The F-15C/Ds are operated by two squadrons (the 44th and the 67th). The two units are part of the USAF's 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. According to Janes data, they are the only USAF F-15C/D squadrons operating overseas.

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