After 48 years the Japanese Self Defence Force (JASDF) bid farewell to the F-4EJ Phantom II when 301 Hikotai ceased Phantom operation on 20 November 2020. Japan was one of the last Countries in the world operating the type, attracting lots of aviation enthusiasts to the country to see the “Spooks” in action.
The Japanese Phantom story started in 1968 with the order of 140 F-4Es all weather air defense fighters. Designated F-4EJ to identify the Japanese modification. The modifications included the absence of inflight refueling, ground attack capability and the possibility to carry the AGM-12 Bullpup. The aircraft were built in license by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Amongst the Phantoms build were 14 unarmed RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft.
As of 1984 a modification program was started to upgrade 96 F-4EJs to the F-4EJ Kai standard. (改, modified) The first F-4EJ Kai flew 17 July 1984 and was accepted by 306 Hikotai some 5 years later. 14 RF-4Es were also upgraded to the RF-4E Kai standard. The F-4EJ Kai modification included updated avionics, AN/AGP-66 pulse radar and ground attack capability. Also the ASM-1 anti-ship missile could be carried.
The JASDF also decided to convert 17 addition RF-4EJs as reconnaissance aircraft, these were also designated RF-4EJ Kai. The aircraft remained weapon capable, and also the under-nose Vulcan gun was still present.
The final phantom ever build, out of 5.195 aircraft, was a Mitsubishi build F-4EJ Kai 17-8440. It was rolled out of the factory on 21 May 1981.
The first two, American build, F-4EJs arrived at Hyakuri Air Base 25 July 1971. They were assigned to 301 Hikotai. During the F-4 peak, 6 squadrons operated the F-4EJ out of four air bases. 301 till 306 Hikotai. 1997-2001, 8 Hikotai also operated F-4EJs. 501 Hikotai was the sole squadron operation the RF-4EJs.
Gradually the number of Phantoms in operated with the JASDF ceased end at the end two units (301 and 501) were the last operating the F-4EJ variants. With the introduction of the F-35A into the JASDF, the days of the F-4EJs were numbered. 42 F-35As were bought and pilot training started at Misawa Air Base. 301 (and 302) Hikotai would take up the F-35 and will move to Misawa as well. 501 Hikotai ceased operations March 2020.
||F-4EJ till 1990, 1991-2020 F-4EJ Kai
||F-4EJ till 1992, 1992-2019 F-4EJ Kai
||F-4EJ till 1989, 1989-1997 F-4EJ Kai
||RF-4E / RF-4EJ (Kai)
After 501 Hikotai ceased operation with the RF-4EJ in March 2020, 301 Hikotai was the only unit left operating the Phantom. With 301 transferring to the F-35A, the F-4EJ was officially put out of order on 20 November with a ceremony at Hyakuri Air Base.
During the ceremony the two special color F-4EJs 37-8315 “Go for it 301 sq” and 07-8436 “Phantom forever” were present together with lots of military officials.
Earlier, 302 Hikotai, the for last F-4EJ operating squadron ceased Phantom operations in 2019. The unit has flown the Phantom for many years out of Nyatubaru and later from Hyakuri. In 2017 it was announced that the unit would be the first to transition to the F-35. In March 2019 the unit stopped flying the F-4. For the occasion 07-8428 (white) and 77-8399 (black) were painted in special colors, applying the units distinctive hawk emblem to the aircraft.
With the operational end of the F-4EJ with the JASDF, some will still be flown by the Air Development and Test Wing.