Japan selected the F-4 Phantom II as its new fighter at the end of the 1960s.
On 1 November 1968, this choice was made public, and Japan became one of the few countries that license-produced this aircraft.
The Japan Air Self-Defence Force received a total of 154 F-4EJ and RF-4Es.
While the F-4EJs were built almost entirely by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the RF-4Es were bought directly from McDonnell-Douglas.
Due to Japanese military limitations prohibiting air-to-ground ordnance, the F-4EJs were delivered without the AN/AJB-7 bombing computer system and also did not have an air-refuelling probe or receptacle.
In service F-4EJs replaced the JASDF’s fleet of Lockheed F-104 J Starfighters.
McDonnell Douglas built the two prototype F-4EJs, which first flew on 14 January 1971.
The next 11 aircraft were assembled in Japan and the first Japanese-built example flew on 12 May 1972.
Mitsubishi built all the EJs over the next nine years and the production ended with 127th F-4EJ, on 20 May 1981.
This was the last F-4 built in the world.
Fourteen RF-4Es were delivered between November 1974 and June 1975.
These were similar to the RF-4C, but, as for the F-4EJs, Japanese-built radar warning receivers and other equipment were substituted to replace equipment which was not released for export to Japan.
The F-4EJ entered service with the JASDF in August 1972 with a total of Six Squadrons operating the aircraft, the 301, 302, 303, 304, 305 and 306th.
The RF-4E equipped the 501st, that had previously operated one of the less-well-known Sabre models, the RF-86F.
Japanese procurement involved small, multi-year orders, which made for slow production of small batches ordered every year.
As of 2007, Japan has a fleet of 90 F-4s currently in service.
Talks were underway to replace them with Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, since the sale of the American F-22 Raptor was blocked by U.S. export restrictions.
In June 2007, Lockheed Martin announced that the company has been awarded a contract to equip several F-15 Eagles with synthetic aperture radar pods.
These F-15s will be used in a reconnaissance role, allowing the RF-4E and RF-4EJ to be retired; the F-4 having served from the 1970s into the 21st century.
On 9 March 2020, the RF-4 was retired after 45 years in JASDF service.
A four-ship flight of RF-4Es and RF-4EJs from 501st Hikōtai performed a ceremonial flypast, which included aircraft serial 47-6901, the first RF-4E built for Japan and the first to be handed over.
This left 301st Hikōtai flying F-4EJ Kai models as the last remaining squadron equipped with Phantoms in Japan.
301st Hikōtai continued to operate the F-4EJ until 14 December 2020 when the Phantom was withdrawn from front-line service, remaining in use with the Air Development and Test Wing at Gifu.
The final JASDF Phantoms were retired on 17 March 2021.
To upgrade the Phantom fleet the JASDF planned the F-4EJ Kai (Japanese for “modified”) program.
This involved 110 aircraft, later reduced to 96, which were upgraded with APG-66 radar, ground attack capabilities and most importantly, ASM-1 or ASM-2 anti-ship missiles (two mounted under the wings).
This boosted their capabilities in the anti-shipping role; filling in for the indigenous Mitsubishi F-1s which were too few in number and lacked range, and the P-3Cs which were too slow, even if well-armed with Harpoon missiles.
The F-4EJ Kai upgrade added several other air-to-surface weapons to the F-4, including bombs and rockets.
Fifteen F-4EJs were also converted to RF-4EJ configuration, which, while mounting no internal cameras, carried podded reconnaissance equipment.
Among the systems installed were TACER (electronic reconnaissance pod with datalink), TAC (pod with KS-135A and KS-95B cameras), D-500UR IR detection system, and the LOROP pod (with a KS-146B camera).
The F-4EJ Kai first flew on 17 July 1984, and first entered service on 24 November 1989 to the JASDF 306th Squadron.
It was fitted the smaller and more lightweight AN/APG-66J pulse Doppler radar and a heads-up display resulting in a lookdown/shootdown capability.
The central computer was updated, as well as the J/APR-6 homing and warning system, IFF system and the inertial navigation unit.
The first F-4EJ Kai aircraft were delivered to the 306th Hikōtai at Komatsu, but within a few years they were replaced by F-15Js.
In April 1994, the F-4EJ strength was reduced to three squadrons: 8 (Misawa), 301 (Nyutabaru) and 302 (Naha, Okinawa).
The 501st at that time operated the RF-4E.
Over time the F-4s and F-1s are being replaced with the new Mitsubishi F-2, an enlarged development of the F-16 developed jointly with Lockheed Martin.
63 ft 0 in (19.2 m)
38 ft 5 in (11.7 m)
16 ft 5 in (5 m)
530 sq ft (49.2 m2)
30,328 lb (13,757 kg)
41,500 lb (18,824 kg)
Max take-off weight
61,795 lb (28,030 kg)
Maximum landing weight
36,831 lb (16,706 kg)
1,994 US gal (1,660 imp gal; 7,550 l) internal,
3,335 US gal (2,777 imp gal; 12,620 l) with 2 x 370 US gal (310 imp gal; 1,400 l) external tanks on the outer wing hardpoints and either a 600 or 610 US gal (500 or 510 imp gal; 2,300 or 2,300 l) tank for the centre-line station.
2 × General Electric J79-GE-17A after-burning turbojet engines,
11,905 lbf (52.96 kN) thrust each dry,
17,845 lbf (79.38 kN) with afterburner
1,280 kn (1,470 mph, 2,370 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
510 kn (580 mph, 940 km/h)
370 nmi (420 mi, 680 km)
1,457 nmi (1,677 mi, 2,699 km)
60,000 ft (18,000 m)
Rate of climb
41,300 ft/min (210 m/s)
78 lb/sq ft (380 kg/m2)
0.86 at loaded weight, 0.58 at MTOW
4,490 ft (1,370 m) at 53,814 lb (24,410 kg)
3,680 ft (1,120 m) at 36,831 lb (16,706 kg)
E-model has a 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan cannon mounted internally under the nose, 640 rounds
Up to 18,650 lb (8,480 kg) of weapons on nine external hard points, including general-purpose bombs, cluster bombs, TV- and laser-guided bombs, rocket pods, anti-ship missiles, gun pods, and nuclear weapons.
Reconnaissance, targeting, electronic countermeasures and baggage pods, and external fuel tanks may also be carried.