What the Americans captured was a 4,600 feet (1,400 m) strip of badly-damaged coral runway. Army engineers from the 13th Combat Engineer Battalion, 7th U.S. Infantry Division quickly made repairs and, by nightfall the same day, the runway could accept emergency landings. Eight days later, and after some 6 inches (150 mm) of coral were added, the airfield was declared operational and put into immediate service by artillery spotting aircraft when the runway became serviceable on 6 April. Additional construction was performed by the 807th Engineering Aviation Battalion to improve the airfield for USAAF fighter and bomber use with fuel tank farms, a new 6,500 feet (2,000 m) bituminous runway, and a 7,500 feet (2,300 m) runway for bomber aircraft by August.
Kadena airfield was initially under the control of Seventh Air Force, however on 16 July 1945, Headquarters Eighth Air Force was transferred, without personnel, equipment, or combat elements to the town of Sakugawa, near Kadena from RAF High Wycombe England. Upon reassignment, its headquarters element absorbed the command staff of the inactivated XX Bomber Command. Kadena was used by the headquarters staff for administrative flying requirements.
Upon its reassignment to the Pacific Theater, Eighth Air Force was assigned to the U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces with a mission to train new B-29 Superfortress bomber groups arriving from the United States for combat missions against Japan. In the planned invasion of Japan, the mission of Eighth Air Force would be to conduct strategic bombing raids from Okinawa. However, the atomic bombings of Japan led to the Japanese surrender before Eighth Air Force saw action in the Pacific theater.
The surrender of Japanese forces in the Ryukyu Islands came on 7 September. General Joseph Stilwell accepted the surrender in an area that would later become Kadena's Stearley Heights housing area.
317th Troop Carrier Group (August–September 1945) (C-46, C-47) Assigned to Seventh Air Force in the Philippines. Deployed aircraft to Kadena and flew courier and passenger routes to Japan, Guam, Korea, and the Philippines, and transported freight and personnel in the area.
333d Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) (August 1945 – May 1946) (B-29) Assigned to Eighth Air Force for planned invasion of Japan. Operations terminated before the group could enter combat. For a time after the war the group ferried Allied prisoners of war from Japan to the Philippine Islands. Inactivated May 1946.
346th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) (August 1945 – June 1946) (B-29) Assigned to Eighth Air Force for planned invasion of Japan. Operations terminated before the group could enter combat. After the war the group participated in several show-of-force missions over Japan and for a time ferried Allied prisoners of war from Okinawa to the Philippine Islands. Inactivated June 1946.
316th Bombardment Wing (September 1945 – June 1948) Assigned to Eighth Air Force for planned invasion of Japan. Operations terminated before the group could enter combat. Reassigned to U.S. Far East Air Forces January 1946. Redesignated as 316th Composite Wing in January 1946, and 316th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) in May 1946. Inactivated June 1948.
On 7 June 1946, Headquarters Eighth Air Force moved without personnel or equipment to MacDill AAF, Florida. It was replaced by the 1st Air Division which directed fighter reconnaissance, and bomber organizations and provided air defense for the Ryukyu Islands until December 1948.
The Korean War emphasized the need for maintaining a naval presence in Okinawa. On 15 February 1951, the US Naval Facility, Naha, was activated and later became commissioned on 18 April. Commander Fleet Activities, Ryukyus was commissioned on 8 March 1957. On 15 May 1972, upon reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration, the two organizations were combined to form Commander Fleet Activities, Okinawa. With the relocations of Commander Fleet Activities, Okinawa to Kadena Air Base on 7 May 1975, the title then became Commander Fleet Activities, Okinawa/US Naval Air Facility, Kadena.
Twentieth Air Force was inactivated in March 1955. Fifth Air Force became the command and control organization for Kadena. Known major postwar USAAF/USAF units assigned to Kadena have been:
6th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) (June 1947 – October 1948) (B-29) Participated in show-of-force flights over Japan and dropped food and other relief supplies to newly freed Allied prisoners of war. Inactivated October 1948.
71st Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (August 1948 – October 1948) (F-5, F-6, RF-51, RF-61) Equipped with reconnaissance aircraft, flew aerial photographing missions over Japan and southern Korea. Inactivated October 1948. The 71st Air Base Group Provided base host unit support for organizations assigned to Kadena.
32d Composite Wing (August 1948 – April 1949) (RB/SB-17G, C-46, RB/SB-29) Replaced 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. Provided photographic reconnaissance and search and rescue support. The 32d Air Base Group Provided base host unit support for organizations assigned to Kadena.
6332d Air Base Group (April 1949 – January 1950) 6332d Air Base Wing (January 1950 – May 1955) 6313th Air Base Wing (October 1957 – December 1964) Provided base host unit support for organizations assigned to Kadena.
22d Bombardment Group (Medium) (July 1950 – October 1950) (B-29) Deployed from March AFB, California. Flew combat missions over North Korea and attacked enemy marshalling yards, bridges, highways, airfields, and industries and supported United Nations ground forces.
581st Air Resupply Group (September 1953 – September 1956) (B-29) reassigned from the inactivating 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing at Clark AB, Philippines. Performed unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency psychological operations. Inactivated and mission transferred to U.S. Navy.
At the end of the Eisenhower presidency, around 1,700 nuclear weapons were deployed on shore in the Pacific, 800 of which were at Kadena Air Base.
Since November 1954, the 18th Wing under various designations has been the main United States Air Force operational unit at Kadena. Over the past 50 years, the 18th has maintained assigned aircraft, crews, and supporting personnel in a high state of readiness for tactical air requirements of Fifth Air Force and the Pacific Air Forces.
The 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was reassigned to Kadena from Osan-ni AB (K-55), South Korea on 1 November 1954, flying three squadrons (12th, 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons) of North American F-86 Sabres. Initially the wing supported tactical fighter operations in Okinawa, as well as in South Korea, Japan, Formosa, and the Philippines with frequent deployments. In 1957, the wing upgraded to the North American AviationF-100 Super Sabre and the designation was changed to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing. In 1960, a tactical reconnaissance mission was added to the wing with the arrival of the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo and the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.
On 30 June 1959 an F-100 from the wing crashed on Okinawa during a training flight after suffering an engine fire. The pilot successfully ejected and suffered no harm, but the aircraft crashed into a local elementary school, killing 11 students plus six residents of the nearby neighborhood.
Beginning in 1961, the 18th was sending its tactical squadrons frequently to South Vietnam and Thailand, initially with its RF-101 reconnaissance forces, and beginning in 1964 with its tactical fighter forces supporting USAF combat missions in the Vietnam War. In 1963, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief replaced the Super Sabres. During the TDY deployments to Southeast Asia, the 12th TFS lost four aircraft, the 44th TFS lost one F-105D, and the 67th TFS lost nine aircraft, including three on the first day of the Rolling Thunder operations. Aircraft markings on natural metal/silver F-105D/F aircraft included a PACAF badge on both sides of the vertical fin, and a coloured band around the nose directly behind the radome. The deployments to Southeast Asia continued until the end of United States involvement in the conflict.
In 1972, the 1st Special Operations Squadron was assigned, bringing their specialized Lockheed C/MC-130 Hercules aircraft to the wing. The squadron was reassigned in 1978. The reconnaissance mission ended in 1989 with the retirement of the RF-4Cs, and the inactivation of the 15th TRS.
The designation of the wing changed on 1 October 1991 to the 18th Wing with the implementation of the Objective Wing concept. With the objective wing, the mission of the 18th expanded to the Composite Air Wing concept of multiple different wing missions with different aircraft. The mission of the 18th was expanded to include aerial refueling with Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker tanker aircraft; and surveillance, warning, command and control Boeing E-3 Sentry, and communications. Added airlift mission in June 1992 with the Beech C-12 Huron, transporting mission critical personnel, high-priority cargo and distinguished visitors. In February 1993, the 18th Wing gained responsibility for coordinating rescue operations in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Other major units assigned to Kadena since 1954 have been:
313th Air Division (March 1955 – October 1991) Assumed responsibility for air defense of the Ryukyu Islands and tactical operations in the Far East, maintaining assigned forces at the highest possible degree of combat readiness. In addition, it supported Fifth Air Force in the development, planning, and coordination of requirements for future Air Force operations in the Ryukyu Islands. The division also supported numerous exercises such as Cope Thunder, Cope Diamond, Team Spirit, and Cope North. Provided base host unit support for organizations assigned to Kadena (May 1955 – October 1957, December 1964 – October 1974). The Air Division was incorporated into the 18th Composite Wing in 1991.
Kadena Task Force (Provisional) (SAC) (May 1955 – May 1958) (RB/ERB-47H) Performed Electronic Reconnaissance and Countermeasures activities.
4252d Strategic Wing (SAC) (January 1965 – April 1970) 376th Strategic Wing (SAC) (April 1970 – August 1973) (B-52, KC-135, EC-135) Activated by Strategic Air Command at Kadena. Replaced 4252nd Strategic Wing. Conducted B-52 combat operations in Southeast Asia from January 1965 to September 1970, when Arc Light Missions from the base were terminated. Conducted KC-135air refueling and RC-135 electronic reconnaissance from April 1970 to 1991. Conducted airborne radio relay operations, April–November 1970, February–June 1971 and March 1972 – August 1973. Until 1991, the wing controlled the 909th Air Refueling Squadron (KC-135A/Q/R) and supported rotational reconnaissance aircraft (TR-1, SR-71) after the inactivation of the 9th SRW in 1974. The Wing was inactivated at Kadena on 30 October 1991 with the drawdown of strategic forces. Its mission was absorbed by the host 18th Wing.
9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SAC) (1968–1974) (A-12, SR-71) Deployed from Beale Air Force Base, California, Performed strategic reconnaissance over Southeast Asian enemy territory (North Vietnam, Laos). The SR-71s averaged approximately one sortie a week for nearly two years. By 1970, the SR-71s were averaging two sorties per week. By 1972, the Blackbird was flying nearly one sortie every day. While deployed in Okinawa, the SR-71s and their aircrew members gained the nickname Habu (as did the A-12s preceding them) after a southeast Asian pit viper which the Okinawans thought the plane resembled.
The 18th Wing is the host unit at Kadena AB. In addition, the base hosts associate units from five other Air Force major commands, the United States Navy, and other Department of Defense agencies and direct reporting units. Associate units operate more than 20 permanently assigned, forward-based or deployed aircraft from the base on a daily basis.
733rd Air Mobility Squadron The more than 320 people of the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron manage all passengers and cargo traveling by air in and out of Kadena. This Air Mobility Command unit supports about 650 aircraft arrivals and departures every month, moving more than 12,000 passengers and nearly 3,000 tons of cargo.
82d Reconnaissance Squadron Air Combat Command's 82d Reconnaissance Squadron maintains aircraft; prepares combat-ready aircrews; and analyzes, processes, and disseminates intelligence data launch in support of RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, RC-135U Combat Sent and WC-135 Constant Phoenix missions flown in the Pacific Theater. Of special value to the Pacific Command and national command authorities, information obtained is used at all levels of the Department of Defense and within other government agencies. The squadron works closely with the 390th Intelligence Squadron.
390th Intelligence Squadron The Air Intelligence Agency's 390th Intelligence Squadron conducts information operations by providing tailored combat intelligence and assessing the security of friendly command, control, communication and computer systems to enhance warfighting survivability, situation awareness and targeting.
The Air Force Housing Management Office (HMO) manages Military Family Housing (MFH) for all service members assigned to Okinawa. Kadena Air Base contains nearly 4,000 family housing units, in apartment, townhouse, and single family home styles.
733rd Air Mobility Squadron
Det 1, 554th Red Horse Squadron
American Forces Network Detachment 11, AFNEWS
Det 3, Pacaf Air Postal Squadron
Det 3, United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine
525 EMXS, Support Center Pacific
Det 3, Wr-Alc Air Force Petroleum Office
Det 624, AF Office of Special investigations
Det 233, Air Force Audit Agency
Field Training Detachment Det 15, 372nd Training Squadron
The mission of NAVCOMM Det Okinawa is to provide communications support for the Seventh Fleet and supporting units, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, U.S. Naval Forces Korea, Defense Information Systems Agency and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. The detachment has four work centers:
TSCCOMM provides telecommunications support for Patrol Wing ONE Det Kadena, deployed patrol squadrons and Marine Wing Detachment
CMS provides communications security (COMSEC) materials and cryptographic equipment to Patrol Squadrons and detachments, and to Commander Amphibious Group One/CTF76, located at White Beach
Naval Radio Transmitter Facility (NRTF) Awase provides HF transmitter support to the fleet and area commanders and LF transmitter support for submarines operating in the Pacific and Indian Oceans
SURTASS supports command and control functions to SURTASS ships operating in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.
18th Combat Support Wing 1 October 1974 – 1 October 1991
Environmental concerns related to base schools
In June 2013, the government of Japan discovered 22 barrels buried on former base property that tests showed had previously contained dioxins and herbicides. Tests on the surrounding soils found dioxin levels at 8.4 times and groundwater at 280 times the legal limit. The land in question is a soccer field bordering the base's Bob Hope Primary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School. Angry parents accused base officials, under base commanders Brigadier General Matt H. Molloy and Brigadier General James B. Hecker, of failing to notify them of the toxins near the school and not investigating into the matter. The parents established a Facebook group on 10 January 2014 titled, "Bob Hope/AEIS - Protect Our Kids." After the issue was reported in the Japan Times and Stars and Stripes, USAF officials tested the soil and water at the schools and said that no excessive toxic substances were found.
Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).