Attrition: Fighter Squadron Taken Down By Earthquake

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March 13, 2011: The recent earthquake and tsunami (tidal wave) in Japan did considerable damage to the Japanese Matsushima Air Base at Miyagi (on the northeast coast of the main island of Honshu.) While the quake itself (the most powerful ever recorded in that area) did some damage, it was the seawater that hurt the most. The air base was hit by the 7.3 meter (23 foot) tidal wave. Among the aircraft hit with the wall of seawater were 18 F-2 fighters. Most of the other vehicles, and electronic support equipment on the base were also inundated. Most of this gear will be too expensive to repair, and thus a total loss. This may include several of the F-2s. About 20 percent of Japan's 98 F-2s were stationed at Matsushima Air Base. Worse, the 21st Fighter Training Squadron at Matsushima was the site of most F-2 pilot training. This is going to be interrupted for months, if not longer.

The F-2 fighter is very similar to the F-16, uses much of the same technology, and has been in service for eleven years. Because of the Japanese policy of building high-tech weapons locally, the F-2 costs over $100 million each (more than twice as much as a comparable F-16E). Japanese pilots get a lot of air time to maintain their flying skills, but don't get to fire weapons often. It was only four years ago that an F-2 dropped a live bomb for the first time. This is so because Japan has no training facility in its own territory for live bombings. Thus it's only when Japanese warplanes are flown to foreign training areas, that they can they practice using real bombs. For this particular practice bombing, the Japanese F-2 aircraft flew to an American air base in Guam, in the Central Pacific.

This Japanese policy is nothing new. In the last sixty years, there have been only three times where Japanese warplanes dropped live munitions. The rest of the time, they practice with inert munitions, and simulated (by computer) bombs. Japanese aircraft have not been in combat since World War II, so there's no way of knowing if their training practices have had an adverse effect on combat effectiveness. Still, the Chinese and Russians respect Japanese fighter pilots, because the increasingly frequent incursions into Japanese air space by Chinese and Russian are always met by fighters flown by what appear to be very skilled pilots.

 


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