A Kadena Air Base crew chief prepares to marshal out an F-15C Eagle during the early morning hours at Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 23 before its departure to the U.S., symbolizing the end of the Iron Flow program here. The aircraft was one of three jets that left to be transferred to Air National Guard units under Iron Flow which exchanged Kadena's older F-15's with newer models from other active- duty bases. All newer jets have been received and these were the last three older aircraft to be turned in. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin)
by Staff Sgt. Christopher Marasky
18th Wing Public Affairs
4/23/2008 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFPN) -- With the departure of the final three F-15C Eagles from Kadena Air Base April 23 to Air National Guard units in the United States, the 18th Wing concluded Kadena AB's role in the Pacific Air Forces Iron Flow program.
Begun in 2005, the Iron Flow program was a process to exchange Kadena's aging F-15 fleet with newer models from Langley Air Force Base, Va. and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. Kadena's Iron Flow program is part of the Combat Air Forces plan for the A through D models of the F-15 fleet, to draw down from more than 480 aircraft to 170 by fiscal 2025. Kadena has received 54 of the newer F-15's, while sending 53 of the older models to eight different Air National Guard bases stateside.
The newer aircraft bring a number of upgraded capabilities such as state-of-the-art GPS, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems and enhanced radar systems.
"The update to the F-15 fleet at Kadena has brought a tremendous improvement in combat capability," said Col. Mark Henkel, 18th Operations Group commander. "The newer aircraft have also demonstrated better mission capability and sortie rates."
While the pilots appreciate the enhanced capabilities of the newer aircraft, experts in the 18th Maintenance Group are seeing the benefits as well.
"Upgrading our F-15's here at Kadena is incredibly important," said Chief Master Sgt. Lloyd Muranaka, 18th Maintenance Group chief. "It will greatly increase our combat capability, as well as increase reliability and maintainability of the aircraft."
The last time Kadena saw such an event was in 1978, when the then 18th Tactical Fighter Wing saw the departure of the F-4 Phantoms which were replaced with the F-15's that have now departed Kadena.
A great deal of the labor to make the switch to the newer models and to swap out the engines between the aircraft fell upon the maintenance group, Colonel Henkel said.
"Over the last three years, we've asked them to support a robust annual flying program while at the same time pay the manpower bill required to transfer and accept an entire new fleet," he said. "Not only did they accomplish this, but they concluded the last fiscal year with the highest mission capable rates ever recorded at Kadena."
The maintenance group was also able to save a large amount of money for the Air Force during the transfers. The 18th Maintenance Operation Squadron took a hard look at the aircraft transfer and acceptance inspection process, as mandated by technical orders and Air Force instructions.
What they discovered were policy-driven redundancies that drove high costs and wasted manpower, Chief Muranaka said.
"The 18th MXG formally requested a waiver to policy, which was eventually approved by Air Combat Command," he said. "We went from spending $584,000 in fiscal year 2006, to $180,000 in 2007 and finally to a mere $15,000 in 2008 -- all the while reducing unnecessary aircraft down-time and increasing availability."
The years of hard work have greatly increased Kadena's capability and it's time to put the new equipment to good use, said Col. John Harris, 18th Maintenance Group commander.
"It took nearly three years of hard work to make it happen," he said. "That was work, resources and leadership that had to be diverted away from the main effort of fixing and flying airplanes. Now that it's over we can really get down to the business of projecting combat airpower."