Japan Adds the Eagle

June 1, 1981
“We are here today to commemorate a most visible example of Japan’s progress in qualitative improvements to its Self-Defense Forces.” The words of Lt. Gen. William H. Ginn, Jr., blended with the scream of F-15 Eagles over Gifu AB, Japan, to usher in a new era in Japanese aviation.

The occasion marked the arrival of the first two F-15Js to be turned over to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), The JASDF is scheduled to obtain ninety-eight more over the next five years.

The addition of the F-l 5 Eagle is significant in its own right, as it adds to Japan’s defense the best air-superiority aircraft in the world. But, as General Ginn pointed out, “The arrival of the F- 15 symbolizes more than just a qualitative improvement of the Self-Defense Forces; it reminds the world that Japan, while totally committed to peace, does not intend to be intimidated and would defend itself vigorously if attacked.” The Eagles demonstrate a changing mood and a changing outlook in Japan.

Shifting Public Opinion

Article IX of Japan’s constitution, written during US occupation, is the famous “no war” clause. It prohibits Japan from waging war or maintaining armed forces.

The Japanese Diet long ago interpreted this to mean that offensive forces are unconstitutional but not forces maintained strictly for self-defense. Even with this interpretation the Self-Defense Forces have been the subject of controversy in years past in Japan, and there was not much enthusiasm for giving them modern equipment. This has changed. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the significant buildup of Soviet forces in the Far East have had a dramatic effect on Japanese public opinion. The s US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and the Japan Self-Defense Forces are now seen to be supported by a greater percentage of the population than ever before.

An example of the progress made in public opinion is the work being done between US and Japanese uniformed personnel under the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation approved in November 1978. Joint studies on defense planning, joint exercises, and joint training are allowed that would have been unheard of a few years ago. This changing public mood also made possible the consensus, so necessary in Japan, to decide to obtain the best air defense there is. With the combination of Grumman E-2C Hawkeye twin-turboprop early-warning aircraft for low-level detection, an upgraded BADGE (Basic Air Defense Ground Environment-a computerized air defense. system) for command and control of the force, and the F -15Js, Japan will have qualitatively as good an air defense system for its particular geography as exists anywhere in the world.

McDonnell Douglas is building the first fourteen of the one hundred Eagles. Mitsubishi will build the rest in Japan under license.

Extensive Training for Eagles

Maj. Darrell Smith, USAF, landed the first Eagle at Gifu and turned it over to one of his former students, Lt. Col. Minoru Hoso, JASDF. Lieutenant Colonel Hoso was just one of the many Japanese who had been involved for some time in the F-15 program. Initial aircrew training was conducted at Luke AFB, Ariz. Japanese pilots and engineers visited Whiteman AFB, Mo., and Edwards AFB, Calif., to test the F-15J’s performance and fire control and data link systems. Some maintenance personnel have been trained at the Eglin AFB, Fla., training course.

One of those pilots trained in the, US, Lt. Col. Masakuzu Hoki of the JASDF, told what flying an Eagle means to him. “In my school days, I used to ride my bicycle twenty miles one way every day to Yokota AB, just to look at airplanes.” Lieutenant Colonel Hoki is on his way to Luke to become an F-15 pilot, so the tradition continues.

JASDF pilots have had other chances for a close look at the Eagles. They have been conducting Dissimilar Air Combat Training in the F-15 since March 1979, when the 94th Tactical Fighter Squadron came from Langley AFB, Va., to Japan to participate in Cope North, a Fifth Air Force-sponsored exercise that is one of the outgrowths of the Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. There have been nine Cope Norths, and the Eagles have participated in four of them. These days, of course, the Eagles come from the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena AB, Japan.

First Squadron in ’82

The first squadron of F-15s in the JASDF will start forming in March 1982 at Nyutabaru AB, Japan. Planes will be added one at a time, and the eighteen-plane squadron will be completed by March 1983. All one hundred Eagles will be added to JASDF by 1986, replacing aging Lockheed F-104 Starfires.

General Ginn said in his remarks at the F-15 turnover ceremony: “I have been privileged to fly the F-15 on a number of occasions and, from the standpoint of a commander and as a pilot, it is a remarkable airplane with superb capabilities. As more F-15s are added to the Air Self-Defense Force, the JASDF and the Japanese people will have good reason for increased confidence in the air defense of their homeland. You have great reason to be proud of your accomplishments today.”

Capt. Cary I. Yanagi is an Air Operations Staff Officer assigned to Fifth Air Force’s Directorate of Operations at Yokota AFB, Japan. He was commissioned through the ROTC program at Southern Methodist University, and now serves as a Weapon Systems Officer in the F-4 Phantom.