JASDF’s F-15J Peace Eagle: Ready to Take on China and North Korea?: Back in December 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a plan to double Japan‘s military spending by 2028 — bringing the nation into line with the NATO standard of 2% of GDP.
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This surprised some Japan analysts, as Kishida-san was seen as a dove prior to winning the PM’s seat back in September 2021.
In light of this major announcement, this is a good time as any to examine Japanese military capabilities, particularly the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF; (航空自衛隊, Kōkū Jieitai)…starting with the F-15J Eagle.
F-15J Origins and Specifications
The American-made McDonnell Douglas – now Boeing — F-15 Eagle is a 4th Generation jet fighter that needs little introduction to most of our readers.
Debuting back in 1972, this living legend of a 4th Generation jet fighter, in its multiple variants, has amassed a mind-numbingly unmatched 104:0 air-to-air kill ratio.
In the case F-15J “Peace Eagle”/F-15DJ/F-15-J Kai, whilst the initial specimens were built Stateside under McDonnell Douglas and then exported to Japan, from 1981 onward, they were built in Japan under license by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the same company that had built the famous A6M “Zero” fighter of WWII.
The F-15J made her maiden flight on 4 June 1980 and officially entered into operational service with JASDF on 7 December 1981, thus replacing the F-104 Starfighter as Japan’s primary fighter plane.
According to an anonymous staff writer for MilitaryFactory.Com, “While appearing as a direct copy of the F-15C/D models, the Japanese lack the ECM [electronic countermeasures] suites, RWR [radar warning receiver] units, and nuclear-delivery capability of their American counterparts…The F-15J ‘Kai’ variant was brought online as a modernized version of the original F-15J fighters.”
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100-100 or F100-200 turbofan engines, the F-15J zips through the sky at a max airspeed of 1,656 miles per hour with a 50,000 feet-per-minute rate of climb and an operating ceiling of 65,600 feet.
Fuselage length is 63.81 feet, wingspan is 42.81 feet, and height is 18.54 feet, with an empty weight of 28,000 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of 68,000 pounds.
Armament consists of a single M61 “Vulcan” 20mm automatic cannon along with ten external hardpoints that can accommodate either (A) homegrown Mitsubishi AAM-3, AAM-4, and AAM-5 missiles, or (B) the American-made AIM-9 “Sidewinder” and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.
Whilst American politicians, generals, and media pundits alike debate the viability of the F-15EX program, JASDF has shown no qualms about installing necessary upgrades to the F-15J.
In February 2022, i.e., a solid 10 months before the Kishida’s decision to double military spending, a Japanese government spokesperson confirmed that 68 of its Peace Eagles (a rather ironic nickname for a warbird, neh?) would receive a 646.5 billion yen ($5.62B USD) upgrade that will improve its radar, electronic warfare, weapons carriage capacity, and stand-off weapon capabilities.
In addition, that spokesperson confirmed that the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, would be integrated with the upgraded F-15s.
F-15J vs. Chinese and North Korean Fighters?
So then, how does Japan’s F-15J stack up against the jet fighters of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force and North Korea’s Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force? We’ll tackle the second half of that question first since it’s a more straightforward answer.
Simply put, the superbly well-trained JASDF Eagle drivers would eat their North Korean adversaries’ lunch in a hypothetical war over the Korean Peninsula or Sea of Japan.
F-15J vs. North Korea
The Korean Communist fighter pilots have the quantity – over 900 combat aircraft — but not the quality, in terms of the planes themselves or the pilot training.
The most sophisticated fighter plane in the DPRK’s aerial arsenal is the MiG-29 “Fulcrum,” which on paper is supposed to be the equal of the F-15, but has come up short against the Eagle in the cold hard realities of actual jet-to-jet combat in every matchup from Operation Desert Storm onward.
It only gets worse for Kim Jong-un’s flyboys from there, as they’re stuck with MiG-23 “Floggers” and Vietnam War vintage MiG-21 Fishbeds, Chengdu J-7 copies of the MiG-21, Shenyang J-5s (a copy of the MiG-17 “Fresco”), Shenyang J-6s (a copy of the MiG-19 “Farmer”).
F-15J vs. China
As far as a theoretical matchup between the F-15J and Xi Jinping’s PLAAF thugs, the matchup is a tad bit uncertain.
China also has its fair share of older fighters such as the 1969-vintage Shenyang J-8 “Finback” and the aforementioned J-7.
But not surprisingly, in the light of the PRC’s large-scale military modernization efforts, the PLAAF has considerably more sophisticated warbirds in its fighter plane arsenal, such as Sukhoi’s Su-27 “Flanker,” Su-30MKK “Flanker-G,” and Su-35 “Flanker-E,” as well as the homegrown Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 and J-16 copies of those aforementioned Russian-designed fighters. These newer planes should theoretically put Chinese pilots on an even footing with their would-be Japanese adversaries. However, the actual performance of the Sukhois in the skies of Ukraine might give one reason for pause.
What would be of greater concern to an Eagle driver, whether JASDF or USAF, in a fight against China, would be the Communist country’s J-20 Wēilóng (“Mighty Dragon”), which is China’s entry into the 5th Generation stealth fighter race, which at least some experts posit as the most capable aircraft deployed by any nation in the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility (AOR). As it the J-20 is meant to tangle with the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, that, in turn, translates to a significant degree of superiority over any variant of the F-15.
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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).