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NAHA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Japanese fighter pilots are learning air-to-air refueling procedures during a two-week training course with their American counterparts from Japan and Florida.

Since Monday, 22 Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-15 pilots — mainly from Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido — have been trying their hand at refueling behind KC-135s with the aid of U.S. instructor pilots from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, Kadena Air Base and the Mobile Training Team. The team consists of fighter pilots from the 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and 95th Fighter Squadron and 2nd Fighter Squadron of the 325th Operations Group, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

The Japanese fighter pilots started out sitting in the back seat of an F-15 observing a refueling operation and progressed to flying themselves, latching onto a KC-135 boom and fueling up.

The training will help certify JASDF’s participation in June’s Red Flag Alaska, a simulated air-combat exercise, instructors said.

But more importantly, the training lays the foundation for improving JASDF’s ability to operate its missions efficiently without having to worry about distance, 5th Air Force’s Lt. Col. Garth Doty said Thursday.

The Japanese fighter pilots are receiving the same training as U.S. pilots.

“It’s a step toward their own indigenous capability in air refueling,” Doty said. “That capability is important to both the U.S. and Japan.”

The JASDF is set to receive its first fleet of KC-767s within a year, so the timing of the training is perfect, Doty said.

The new tanker, which is larger and can hold more fuel than a KC-135, will be the first for JASDF, he said.

“The training is defined very well and works for us and helps us achieve our goals,” said JASDF squadron commander Lt. Col. Akira Santo. “We are very honored to learn those skills, and we appreciate the instructors.”

Maj. Marcelo Morales, of Yokota’s Detachment 1, 13th Air Force, said the exercise has provided insight into how JASDF approaches its training and daily operations, as well as its military doctrine.

“It’s been interesting to see how their doctrine differs from ours,” he said. “It’s been a very good experience.”

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