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United States Air Forces, Japan
Fifth Air Force

Fifth Air Force is the Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces forward element in Japan, conducting activities to include maximizing partnership capabilities and promoting bilateral defense cooperation. In this capacity, the unit acts as United States Air Forces, Japan. Coalition operations with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force send a clear message that US forward presence is robust, ready and prepared to meet existing and future challenges in the region. This strong partnership stemmed from over 50 years, as of 2011, of bilateral operations and long-term relationships. Personnel assigned to Fifth Air Force engaged with the Japanese, improving capabilities, integrating our forces and maintaining a clear and visible presence in the region.

Fifth Air Force's mission had previously been three-fold. First, Fifth planned, conducted, controled, and coordinated air operations in accordance with tasks assigned by the PACAF Commander. Second, Fifth Air Force maintained a level of readiness necessary for successful completion of directed military operations. Lastly, Fifth Air Force assisted in the mutual defense of Japan and enhanced regional stability by planning, exercising, and executing joint air operations in partnership with Japan. To achieve this mission, Fifth Air Force maintained its deterrent force posture to protect both US and Japanese interests, and could conduct appropriate air operations should deterrence fail.

While Fifth Air Force traced its roots to the Philippines in the 1940s, US military aviation made its first presence in the region in March of 1912. Starting with a flight training school near Manila, its presence grew to the establishment of several aero squadrons over the next 30 years.

In September of 1941, the Philippine Department Air Force was created. One month later, its name was changed to the Far East Air Force. It was under this name that the unit saw its first combat action. Within hours of the attack on pearl harbor, Japanese forces attacked US bases in the Philippines, destroying most of the aircraft while they were still on the ground. The remaining aircraft allowed the Far East Air Force to become the first US Army Air Force unit to take part in combat, conducting defensive operations allowing United States and allied forces to retreat to Australia's northern coast. While in Australia, the Far East Air Force was redesignated as Fifth Air Force in 1942 and placed under the command of Major General George Kenney.

Kenney was General Douglas MacArthur's component commander for all allied air services. Under his leadership, Fifth Air Force provided the aerial spearhead for MacArthur's island hopping campaign. Providing an air umbrella for MacArthur, Fifth Air Force was an integral part of the successful campaign to retake New Guinea, the Philippines, and by the war's end, Okinawa. When the war ended, Fifth Air Force had an unmatched record of 3,445 aerial victories, led by the nation's 2 top fighter aces: Major Richard Bong and Major Thomas Mcguire. These pilots had 40 and 38 confirmed victories respectively, and were 2 of Fifth Air Force's 10 Medal of Honor recipients.

Following the war, Fifth Air Force served as part of the occupation forces in Japan. In 1950, Fifth Air Force was called upon again. In the early morning hours of 25 june 1950, North Korea launched a sudden, all-out attack south. Reacting quickly to the invasion, Fifth Air Force provided air cover over the skies of Seoul. In this first Jet War, Fifth Air Force racked up an unprecedented 14.5 to 1 victory ratio. By the time the truce was signed in 1953, Fifth Air Force had flown over 625,000 missions, downing 953 North Korean and chinese aircraft, while close air support accounted for 47 percent of all enemy troop casualties. Thirty-eight fighter pilots were identified as aces, including Lieutenant Colonel James Jabara, America's first jet ace, and Captain Joseph Mcconnell, the leading Korean war ace with 16 confirmed victories. Additionally, 4 Medals of Honor were awarded to Fifth Air Force members. One other pilot of note was Marine Major John Glenn, who flew for Fifth Air Force as part of an exchange program.

Following the war, Fifth Air Force returned its headquarters to Japan. Not only concerned with maintaining a strong tactical posture for the defense of both Japan and South Korea, Fifth Air Force played a critical role in helping the establishment of the Japan Air Self Defense Force, as well as the Republic of Korea Air Force. These and other peacetime efforts lasted a decade before war clouds once again developed in the Pacific.

This time, the area of concern was Southeast Asia, beginning in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis. Fifth air force furnished aircraft, aircrews, support personnel, and supplies throughout the 8 years of combat operations in South Vietnam and Laos.

After 1972, the Pacific Region saw a relative calm, thanks in large part to the deterrent role Fifth Air Force played. That did not mean Fifth Air Force was idle in the meantime. Fifth Air Force played active or supporting roles in a variety of issues ranging from being first on the scene at the KAL shootdown in 1983 to deploying personnel and supplies for the Persian Gulf war in 1990. The size of Fifth Air Force changed as well. With the activation of Seventh Air Force in 1986, Fifth Air Force left the Korean Peninsula and focused its energy on continuing the growing bilateral relationship with Japan.

The Fifth Air Force's efforts also went beyond combat operations. Fifth Air Force reacted to natural disasters in Japan and abroad. These efforts included the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and Super Typhoon Paka which hit Guam in 1997. Fifth Air Force has reached out to provide assistance to victims of floods, Typhoons, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes throughout the region. Fifth Air Force provided further assistance in the region in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Burma cyclone of 2008, the Indonesia earthquake of 2009, and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Elements of Fifth Air Force participated in relief efforts as part of Operation Tomodachi following the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:14:30 ZULU