Phantom with Japan

Last revised February 26, 2000

The Nihon Koku Jietai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force, or JASDF) acquired 154 Phantoms for air defense and reconnaissance. The fighter version was designated F-4EJ, and (except for an initial few assembled by McDonnell) all were built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. The reconnaissance version was designated RF-4EJ and was built in the USA by McDonnell.

The F-4EJ was ordered for the JASDF on November 1, 1968. Since the Japanese armed forces were forbidden by treaty from having even a hint of an offensive capability, the F-4EJ was optimized for the air defense role, the AN/AJB-7 bombing system being omitted. There was no provision for the carrying or delivery of air-to-ground weapons. As built, the Mitsubishi-built Phantoms were not fitted with inflight refuelling receptacles, but this was later retrofitted.

Two F-4EJs (JASDF serials 17-8301 and 17-8302) were built by McDonnell in St Louis and tested beginning on January 14, 1971. The next eleven (JASDF serials 27-8303/8307, 37-8307/8310, and 47-8311/8313) were built by McDonnell in kit form and were assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. The first Japanese-assembled aircraft (27-8303) flew on May 12, 1972. Subsequently, Mitsubishi built 127 F-4EJs under license, the last example being delivered on May 20, 1981. This was the last Phantom built.

Fourteen unarmed reconnaissance versions of the F-4EJ were built by McDonnell and delivered to the JASDF between November 1974 and June 1975. They were designated RF-4EJ. They were virtually identical to the USAF RF-4C, with the only differences being the deletion of certain equipment such as the radar homing and warning suite.

The F-4EJ first entered service with the JASDF in August of 1972. In the JASDF, six interceptor squadrons (hikotai) have operated the F-4EJ. These were the 301st, 302nd, 303rd, 304th, 305th, and 306th. The RF-4EJ was operated by the 501st Hikotai, replacing that unit's RF-86F Sabres.

Throughout the 1980s, the force of 140 F-4EJs gradually dwindled by attrition and reached 125 in 1992. Conversions to the F-15J began in the late 1980s, and most surviving JASDF F-4EJs have been upgraded to F-4EJ Kai standards.

The F-4EJ Kai is an upgraded version of the Japanese-built F-4EJ, intended to bring the F-4EJ up to standards appropriate for the 1990s. The first F-4EJ Kai entered service with 306 Hikotai in November of 1989. It had originally been planned to upgrade 110 of the 125 surviving F-4EJs to Kai standards, but this was later changed to only 96.

In a program which paralleled that of the F-4EJ Kai, the JASDF upgraded 11 of its RF-4Es to RF-4E Kai standards. The modifications included the replacement of the AN/APQ-99 radar by an AN/APQ-172 unit with digital image processing. The J/APR-2 RWR was replaced by J/APr-5. However, because of budgetary restrictions, not all of the RF-4E Kais have actually been fitted with the AN/APQ-172 radar suite.

Seventeen of the remaining 29 F-4EJs that were not scheduled to be converted to F-4EJ Kai status were to be converted to the reconnaissance role under the designation RF-4EJ, with the remaining 12 to be retired. So far, nine F-4EJs have been converted to RF-4EJ standards. These aircraft had the undernose Vulcan cannon removed, but they differ from the RF-4E/RF-4E Kai in not having any internal reconnaissance equipment. However they can carry three types of sensor pods, depending on mission requirements. These comprise the TACER (an elecronic reconnaissance pod with datalink), the TAC (carrying KS-135A and KS-95B cameras, plus a D-500UR IR system) and the LOROP (with KS-146B camera). A total of 17 F-14EJ Kais will be converted to the reconnaissance role, all being assigned to the 501st Hikotai. This unit also uses the 12 remaining RF-4Es, ten of which are to Kai standards.

To date a total of 14 F-4EJs have been lost in accidents, while 96 have been converted to Kai standards.

Although the first F-4EJ Kai squadron was the 306 Hikotai at Komatsu, these aircraft were transferred to 8 Hikotai at Misawa AB (which had previously operated F-1s) and 306 Hikotai transitioned to the F-15J/DJ. This transition was completed in March of 1997.

By April 1994, F-4EJ/F-4EJ Kai strength was reduced to only three squadrons. 303, 304, 305, and 306 Hikotai all had converted to the F-15J/DJ in the early 1990s. The squadrons remaining were the 8 Hikotai of the 3 Kokudan based at Misawa, the 301 Hikotai of the the 5 Kokudan based at Nyutabaru, and the 302 Hikotai of the 83 Kokutai based at Naha on Okinawa. The reconnaissance Phantoms serve with the 501 Hikotai based at Hyakuri. These F-4EJ squadrons should remain with the JASDF until well after the year 2000.

JASDF aircraft are assigned a four-digit serial with a two-digit prefix. The second digit in the prefix is the type number of the aircraft (7 for the Phantom), whereas the first digit in the prefix indicates the last digit of the year of delivery.

Serials of JASDF Phantoms:

McDonnell F-4EJ-45-MC Phantom	17-8301/8302
McDonnell F-4EJ-45-MC Phantom 	27-8303/8306  
					last two assembled by Mitsubishi in kit form
					8304 crashed 5/1/1973
McDonnell F-4EJ-45-MC Phantom	37-8307/8310 
					all assembled by Mitsubishi in kit form
					8307 crashed 7/6/1979
					8309 crashed 7/16/1986
					8310 crashed 12/7/1978 
McDonnell F-4EJ-47-MC Phantom	37-8311/8313 
					all assembled by Mitsubishi in kit form
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	37-8314/8323
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	47-8324/8352 
					(8324 to 8331 later renumbered with prefix 37)
					8325 crashed.  Date ???
					8337 crashed 8/15/1999
					8339 crashed 10/11/1997
					8343 crashed 10/13/1982
					8346 crashed 5/11/1998
McDonnell RF-4EJ-56-MC Phantom	47-6901/6905  
McDonnell RF-4EJ-57-MC Phantom	57-6906/6914
					6910 crashed.  Date ???
					6911 crashed.  Date ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	57-8353/8376
					8358 crashed.  Date ???
					8363 crashed.  Date ???
					8364 crashed.  Date ???
					8370 crashed.  Date ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	67-8377/8391
					8379 crashed 10/9/1998
					8382 crashed.  Date  ???
					8385 crashed.  Date  ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	77-8392/8403
					8396 crashed.  date  ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	87-8404/8415
					8405 crashed.  Date ???
					8410 crashed.  Date ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	97-8416/8427
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	07-8428/8436
					8430 crashed.  Date ???
					8432 crashed.  Date ???
Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom	17-8437/8440


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  2. McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.

  3. Japanese Self Defence Force Air Arms, Riccardo Niccoli, Air International, Vol 50 No. 1, 1996.

  4. Air Power Analysis--Japan, World Air Power Journal, Vol 35, 1998.

  5. Koku Phantom, Yoshitomo Aoki, Air Forces Monthly, March 2000.