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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The top U.S. military commander in Japan rode Tuesday where no American has sat before — in the back seat of Japan’s newest fighter aircraft, the F-2.

During a visit here, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow, commander of the 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan, teamed with Lt. Gen. Kunihiro Oda, head of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Defense Command, in the first U.S.-Japan training mission involving F-2s and the American F-16s from Misawa’s 13th Fighter Squadron.

“Not only was today fun, but it showed the potential” for future training opportunities between Pacific Air Forces and JASDF, Waskow said.

The sleek F-2s, operated by JASDF’s 3rd Air Wing at Misawa, were thrust into duty this spring. Oda said he invited Waskow — a decorated Vietnam War combat pilot — to fly in the F-2 so he could get a firsthand glimpse of the aircraft’s capabilities and the skills of the JASDF pilots.

In return, Waskow and Brig. Gen. William Rew, the 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa base commander, asked Oda to fly against Waskow in an F-16, officials said.

Oda flew in the back seat of an F-16 piloted by Capt. Steve Tittel. Rew was Tittel’s wingman in an hourlong mission pitting the two American aviators against two F-2s. The pilots conducted Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics training, simulating battle scenarios to learn what different aircraft bring to a fight.

Waskow said this was the first time the F-2 participated in such training.

“The reason this is important is because as the world changes and we react to more highly technological threats, we’re able to share lessons learned between the two air forces,” Waskow said.

The U.S. commander said he was impressed with the F-2, which is designed and built by the Japanese. The aircraft has some capabilities “that our aircraft does not,” Waskow said, mentioning the Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, which has three times the range of a conventional antenna.

Oda said he was more impressed with the American pilots: “I learned the attitude of their pilots was aggressive,” he said.

During the mission debriefing, Oda praised the U.S. aviators for how they prepared for the training mission, noting that they thoroughly explained every piece of gear to him down to the life jacket he wore.

“JASDF needs to learn about the way the U.S. does business,” he said.

Waskow also credited the JASDF pilots for their dedication and professionalism, saying he looked forward to future training missions with JASDF.

“Even with the uncertainties of the global war on terrorism, this is something that will provide a baseline for professonalism for both our air forces for the future,” he said.

The two air forces hope to conduct more training between the fighters, gradually making the practice scenarios more complex, the generals indicated. Waskow said he envisions someday inviting the F-2 to participate in major U.S. Air Force exercises in the United States, such as Cope Thunder and Red Flag.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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