On March 17, 2021, the remaining three F-4EJ Phantom aircraft of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force made their last flight at Gifu Air Base, north of Nagoya.
With the retirement of the airframes 17-8301/301, 47-8336/336 and 07-8431/431 the career of the F-4 in the JASDF has eventually come to an end. The aircraft operated with the Air Development and Test Wing (the unit that specializes in pre-operational testing and verification of JASDF equipment).
The three Samurai Phantoms (two F-4EJ and an F-4EJ “Kai”) took off at around 8:55 AM LT, and flew for about 40 minutes. Then they performed several passes over the base before landing for the last time.
After landing, they passed through the water arch by the water cannon and were greeted by the JASDF personnel gathered on the apron with an applause.
The last JASDF unit to fly the type is understood to operate an upgraded version designated the F-4EJ Kai Phantom.
Commencing in 1984, the Kai upgrade programme saw the Westinghouse APG-66J pulse doppler radar replace the APQ-120, offering more modes and improved capabilities.
Other improvements involved the aircraft’s mission computer, head-up display, identification friend or foe equipment, and an improved internal navigation system. The upgrade also allowed the use of anti-ship missiles, specifically the ASM-1 and ASM-2 produced by Mitsubishi, as well as other air-to-ground ordnance.
Japan has largely replaced its F-4 fleet with the Lockheed Martin F-35A.
Tokyo has operated the F-4 since 1968. Cirium fleets data indicates that seven remain in service, with a total of 154 examples delivered, including 14 RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft. Of the F-4EJ fleet, 138 examples were built under license by Mitsubishi. The last RF-4Es were retired in March.
The departure of the JASDF’s F-4s leaves the Republic of Korea Air Force as the only remaining Asia-Pacific operator of the iconic Cold War type. As with Japan, South Korea is replacing the F-4 fleet with the F-35A.
The JASDF adds that some of the retired Phantoms will be used for display purposes at air bases.