JASDF closes out airlift support mission
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Japan Air Self-Defense Force is closing out Operation Freedom Lift, a six-year effort aimed at hauling supplies and cargo to U.S. military personnel in Japan and Okinawa.
A Japanese C-1 aircraft and crew from Miho Air Base made a final stop at Yokota on Wednesday. It marked the program’s 381st mission.
Lt. Col. Scott Graham, director of operations for the 730th Air Mobility Squadron, said the JASDF C-1 and earlier C-130 flights helped free up U.S. assets for the war on terrorism and other endeavors.
“It allowed us to dedicate our aircraft to other missions,” he said Wednesday. “We greatly appreciate what they did for us.”
The weekly airlifts had been permitted under Japan’s Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, but that was set to expire Thursday.
Graham said losing Operation Freedom Lift will mean an increase in payloads on Air Force planes, primarily those at Yokota and Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
“This just relieved us of some of the load of what we had to take down there,” he added. “Now, there’s another load we’re going to have to pick up. Does it stop the mission? No. But every partner we have helping is an important piece.”
The JASDF began Operation Freedom Lift in November 2001, using a C-130 to airlift supplies for U.S. forces here. A C-1 joined the mission the following year. Previous flights also went to Guam, but officials began flying the C-1 only in July 2004 on a route that hit Yokota, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Kadena.
Miho and Iruma air bases took turns handling the mission.
JASDF Lt. Col. So Shiokawa, commander of the 3rd Airlift Group’s 403rd Flight Squadron at Miho, said Freedom Lift gave the Japanese a feel for the war on terrorism, even though they provided only indirect assistance.
“To be able to support U.S. forces … is very challenging,” he said through a translator. “We could learn a lot of things from U.S. forces about the operation through this mission.”
Operation Freedom Lift won’t be reinstated unless approved by the Japanese legislature in a future session.