A pair of Navy fighter squadrons are arriving this week at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, completing the transfer of the USS Ronald Reagan strike group’s fixed-wing aircraft from their old home base near Tokyo.
Strike Fighter Squadrons 27 and 102 are the last jet squadrons from Carrier Air Wing 5 to make the move from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Iwakuni, which is hundreds of miles away near the southern end of Japan’s main island of Honshu.
“After more than a decade of coordination and planning between the U.S. and Japanese governments, it is rewarding to complete the relocation of our fixed wing aircraft,” wing commander Capt. Forrest Young said in a Navy statement issued Wednesday announcing the move.
Construction continues on new facilities to accommodate the squadrons. The base has already built new schools, a commissary, gym, theater, runways and hangars.
More than three quarters of the base will have changed by the time the work ends. All of the personnel moving there should have arrived in the second half of 2018, the statement said.
The move to Iwakuni has benefits and drawbacks for the wing, said Cmdr. Thomas Bodine, a former TOPGUN instructor now serving as an executive fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs told Stars and Stripes earlier this month.
Bodine, who trained at Atsugi in the past, said it will take more logistical work to move crewmembers such as maintainers to the Ronald Reagan before it departs on patrol, and the air wing will be farther from Iwo Jima, where it usually conducts landing practice.
“The distance matters, but even stateside most of the air wings on the west coast are located at Lemoore, Calif., and the carrier is in San Diego or in [Naval Air Station Whidbey Island] Washington,” he said. “So, they’re just as far or even farther than the guys in Japan.”
He said Iwakuni pilots will have better access to bombing ranges, which are in short supply in Japan, and longer runways that provide more safety in case of a mechanical failure.
And fewer local residents will be affected by aircraft noise, Bodine said.
“It gives U.S. forces a little more freedom of movement,” he said. “If you draw a three-mile radius from Atsugi, you’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 million people within that radius. If you want to be sensitive to noise complaints, getting away from that big population center is probably good for everybody.”
The move, directed in May 2006, was supposed to be completed by 2014 but didn’t begin until February 2017 with the arrival of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125. VFA 115 and 195 along with Electronic Attack Squadron 141 and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 Detachment 5 relocated to Iwakuni by December 2017.
Two helicopter squadrons from the air wing will remain at Atsugi along with Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51.
The installation is shared with units from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
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