Japan Air Self Defense Force is one of the last top-tier air force flying the Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom II with the Samurais of Tactical Fighter Squadron Hitokai 301 retiring their birds over the weekend, as the force transitions to the F-35A.
The squadron was the first JASDF unit to field the Phantom, on 1 August 1972, making it fitting that they are the last to operate them– although it should be stressed that the Japanese still have a few F-4s put back for testing and training missions.
Notably, the JASDF has given several of these F-4EJ “Phinal Phantoms” special paint schemes to commemorate the type’s impressive 48 years of service.
Of note, the Iranians, Greeks, South Koreans, and Turks still fly a total of about 150~ F-4s while the U.S. withdrew their last operational unit, the Marine Reservists of VMFA-321, in 1992 and expended their last QF-4 drone in 2016.
Last year Japan announced they had a record number of air intercepts of foreign warplanes approaching their airspace.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) launched 533 interceptions in the first half of fiscal year 2014 (FY 2014), compared with 308 in the first six months of FY 2013 (April-September 2013). The total number of interceptions in FY 2013 was 810, itself an increase compared with 567 in FY 2012 and 425 in FY 2011.
The six-month total is the largest since the Japanese Ministry of Defense began releasing such data in 2003, a Joint Staff Office (JSO) statement said.
The majority of intercepted aircraft were Russian: 324 aircraft compared with 136 in the same period in the previous year. The number of Chinese military aircraft intercepted while approaching or flying near Japanese airspace also increased from 149 to 207.
While Japan wants the F-22 but Washington won’t give them up and they are waiting on the F-35, most intercepts are done with what they have, which are 199 F-15s and (wait for it) 71 1970s-era Mitsubishi built F/EF/RF-4EJ Phantoms.
The JASDF Phantom drivers are experts at what they do and, even while their airframes date back to the Vietnam war era, their electronics have received continuous upgrades and are capable of firing advanced air to air missiles.
The Japanese have so much faith in them that when the F-15s are grounded (which has happened several times) they have dropped the entire load of air defense over the Home Islands on the big smokey Phantoms.