KADENA AIR BASE, Japan – More than 300 men and women of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and 12 F-35A Lightning IIs are conducting business for the next six months on the subtropical Japanese island of Okinawa during a deployment known as a Theater Security Package.
Their business is to fly the F-35A, integrate with Kadena Air Base’s F-15C Eagles and other assets and demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region – and they’re excited to do it.
“We were very excited to find out we were coming here,” said Lt. Col. “Scout” Johnston, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people and the facilities are excellent. The airspace is phenomenal. This allows us to have great training opportunities and integration with other Air Force assets as well as with the Navy and Marine Corps and hopefully with the Japanese Self-defense force. So, we are excited to be here.”
Maj. Daniel Toftness, 34th FS assistant director of operations, said this TSP took months of planning and is a little different than the others that have staged at Kadena AB since 2004, as this is the first time the Air Force’s version of the F-35 has deployed to the Pacific.
“It’s a little bit of a game changer,” he said. “We’re increasing the capability since we’re bringing fifth generation assets. It’s the first time the F-35A has deployed for an extended length of time. We have learned some lessons along the way on how to do that, but this is really a big first for us. It’s a great opportunity to integrate with all the other platforms here, and it’s a great opportunity to reassure our allies of the U.S. commitment to the region.”
Col. Jason Reuschhoff said careful planning and good people executing the plan is making this a successful deployment and is what will continue to sustain it through the duration.
“The constant variable is always the people,” he said. “The people have been phenomenal from the time we started planning this. It’s the ingenuity, initiative and the dedication of the 300-plus professionals who are here and are making it happen. It takes a lot to put something like this together. The logistics part of this whole thing is probably the most challenging. Getting everybody in the right place at the right time is what can hang operations up, and our people made it happen.”
Okinawa is the perfect location for the F-35As and Hill AFB Airmen to operate because it’s a different environment than where they work in Utah.
“Back home, we only have F-35s, so our integration opportunities with other platforms are limited,” Toftness said. “Now, out here with the F-15s and all the other assets throughout the region, we are going to get a lot more opportunity to do those things. It’s really good training when we get with those other platforms. Also, our training back home is primarily over land and out here it’s completely over water. Every piece of airspace over here is over water.”
The expectations of what can be accomplished on this deployment revolve largely around flying with the 18th Wing’s F-15Cs and coalition partners.
“The integration that the F-35 can facilitate is a big piece in what makes this aircraft so capable,” Rueschhoff said. “The opportunities to do that with the F-15 in an air superiority role is huge. Ultimately, if we’re able to work coalition engagements and integration, that allows us to fly with other Air Force assets and our coalition partners, it will be a huge benefit to our TSP success.”
Johnston said another benefit of the TSP is the ability to work closely with the maintenance and support team, who have continually kept jets in the air here.
“Maintenance has done a tremendous job”, he said. “We flew the first day we could possibly fly a plane here, and we have flown every line. I am really impressed with the whole team, maintenance and Lockheed support have been outstanding.”
Rueschhoff thanked the 18th Wing at Kadena AB for being receptive, helpful and accommodating, and he has no doubts for success because people in every position understand the importance of the mission on this first F-35A TSP deployment.
“I know things will go smoothly,” he said. “All the way from the commander to the youngest lieutenant, including the officer in charge of maintenance, down to the youngest airman. Everyone is extremely professional and they understand the significance of what they’re doing. The tactical and strategic importance is not lost with any of our folks. This is not just another temporary duty.”
U.S. Pacific Command’s TSP deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region have operated since 2004. This long-planned deployment is designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.