As Japan Awaits F-35 Jets, It Bids Adieu To Legendry US Warplanes That Kept Chinese On Toes For Decades

On Friday, Japan bid a final adieu to its legacy F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber jets after about half a century of service, via its send-off ceremony held by the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).

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Japan placed the first F-4 Phantom order with the United States in 1968, with deliveries starting in 1972. The aircraft has been an important part of the JASDF and is now retired from its combat duties-  it would nevertheless still serve with the country’s Air Development and Test Wing.

The ceremony was held at the Hyakuri Air Force Base, about 50 miles northeast of Tokyo. The Air Base is also the home to 301 Hikotai Squadron, which was the last operational unit in the JASDF to have the F-4s.

The squadron was the first unit of the air force to fly the aircraft. Senior JASDF officials, airbase representatives, and various squadron commanders attended the send-off event.

The unit would now be equipped with the latest F-35A fifth-generation American fighter jets and would be the second squadron to be equipped with the aircraft after the 302 Hikotai, which was established at Misawa in March 2019.

Similar to the 301 Hikotai, this squadron was also one of the last remaining squadrons of the F-4 Phantoms based at Hyakuri AFB and switched to the new base with the new fighter jets.

The arrival of the service’s F-4EJ (based on American service F-4E) also saw the establishment of indigenous industrial license-production of the aircraft when Mitsubishi started rolling out airframes and built 138 of them.

Interestingly, the last ever-produced Phantom (out of 5,195 ever produced globally) was also made via Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on 21st May 1981. “The Final Phantom” served with 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron and later transferred to the 301st Hikotai.

The JASDF also operated unarmed reconnaissance variants of the aircraft, designated RF-4E/EJs, and retired its last squadron (the 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) on 9 March 2020. The retirement of F-4s with the 301st Hikotai was earlier scheduled for 2021, but the date was brought forward with an announcement of the ceremony on 20th November 2020.