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Japan plans to decommission its only tactical reconnaissance squadron

F-4 Phantom (JASDF RF-4E). (Morio/Released)

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force will retire its aging RF-4E Phantom II reconnaissance jets and decommission the unit that flies them by March 2020, a JASDF spokesman said Monday.

The Defense Ministry is planning to replace the Tactical Reconnaissance Group’s 40-year-old RF-4Es with state-of-the-art F-35A and F-35B Lightning IIs, the spokesman said on a customary condition of anonymity.

The Tactical Reconnaissance Group, formed in 1961, is headquartered at Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki prefecture. It’s the only squadron of its kind in the JASDF, according to the Ministry of Defense website.

The unarmed RF-4E can survey and photograph in all weather and at night using short-distance, long-distance, infrared and panoramic cameras, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. JASDF introduced the first RF-4Es in 1974 and now has 13 in operation, the newspaper reported.

The reconnaissance group flies defense missions around Japan but also conducts damage surveys following natural disasters. The RF-4Es were used to survey Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, according to the Defense Ministry. It also helped identify homes affected by landslides after the Hokkaido earthquake in September, according to Yomiuri Shimbun.


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