Kadena Air Base Shows Its Firepower During Surprise “Elephant Walk” Drill

The whole region is on edge as President Trump appears to be ready to confront North Korea militarily, just as the Pyongyang readies for yet another nuclear test. The next few days are going to be strenuous to say the least. The 18th Air Wing based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan is keeping frosty by ordering a large-scale, no-warning sortie generation drill. The impressive pictures below depict the result of this surprise exercise. 


The “elephant walk” occurred on April 12th, with the 18th Wing’s F-15C/D Eagles, HH-60G Pave Hawks, E-3B Sentries and KC-135R Stratotankers taking part. Being that the drill was unannounced, what you see here a probably a fairly good snapshot of what the 18th Wing can put in the air on short notice. Keep in mind that all the F-15s were armed up before “launching.” 

There are two F-15C/D squadrons, the 44th FS and 67th FS, based at Kadena and both are part of the 18th Wing. Most F-15C/D squadrons have 18 primary aircraft and three backup aircraft in inventory. Only one other F-15C/D “active” USAF squadron exists, the 493rd FS based in RAF Lakenheath, the UK, the rest are all Air National Guard units.

Obviously this high-profile training evolution comes as a showdown with North Korea looms. These elephant walks are a fairly regular occurrence in South Korea, but in Japan, that’s is a different story. 

Sprawling Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. The base would be one of Pyongyang’s top targets for its increasingly capable ballistic missiles. , Google Earth

With a redirected US carrier strike group now arriving off the Korean Peninsula, a large flotilla of Japanese warships rendezvousing with that strike group, and the whole region on maximum alert for yet another North Korean nuclear test and/or large-scale missile test, what comes next may not be pretty. Trump has made it clear that he is prepared to deal with North Korea unilaterally, but as of right now it seems that China may be at least partially privy to any plans the Pentagon may have. Multiple sources have also reported that roughly 150,000 Chinese troops have been moved to the North Korean border. It is unclear if these reports are fully accurate or not, but the reality is the border is already heavily patrolled by the PLA.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), one of newest destroyers in the Navy’s inventory, is part of the Carl Vinson Strike Group that is currently on its way to the shores off the Korean Peninsula. , USN

The big question, as we have discussed earlier in the week, is will Trump preemptively or postemptively strike a nuclear or missile test, or attempt to swat a North Korean missile out of the sky? Any of these acts could lead down an uncertain and perilous road for both Pyongyang and Washington, not to mention South Korea and the region as a whole. The main unknown being, what is the Kim regime’s threshold for a kinetic attack, and especially, at what point in time does he put his artillery along the DMZ to work and execute other war plans which will likely mark the end of his regime, although at tremendous cost to all those involved. 

Kim Jong Un made a rare appearance in front of international media today for a residential block opening in Pyongyang. , AP

We also don’t know what is being done to get the Kim regime to the negotiating table. China would be the wild card here, and this massive show of force could be working as the military anvil to China’s diplomatic hammer, trying to force the Kim regime to negotiate or at least stand down from further tests. But it seems more and more likely that even Beijing have lost all control over the Kim regime—short of purposefully starving out the country and letting its energy reserves run dry.

We will be on watch this weekend to see how things develop. April 15th is Day of The Sun in North Korea. Usually some sort of major military weapons test or other high profile military act occurs around that date. But this time the paradigm appears to have changed geopolitically in a fairly dramatic fashion. Seeing if Kim Jong Un goes through with any sort of major test in the coming days will be a key indicator as to his appetite for risk-taking going forward.  

Kim photographed today in Pyongyang., AP

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.