Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
In addition to visiting Hyakuri on my first-ever visit to Japan I took the opportunity to travel West of Tokyo to Atsugi Naval Air Facility (NAF) in the Kanagawa Prefecture region. Naval Air Facility Atsugi is the largest United States Navy air base in the Pacific Ocean and houses the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 5, which deploys with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73).
The Imperial Japanese Navy constructed the base in 1938 to house the Japanese 302 Naval Aviation Corps, one of Japan's most formidable fighter squadrons during World War II. Aircraft based at Atsugi shot down more than 300 American bombers during the fire bombings of 1945.
In addition to its history surrounding World War II and following occupation by the US Navy thereafter, NAF Atsugi was a major naval air base during both the Korean War and Vietnam War. It served fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft. One of the aircraft based at Atsugi was the U-2 spy plane. A mission involving a U-2, piloted by Gary Powers, provoked an international incident when it was downed over the Soviet Union.
In September 2012, The U.S. Navy announced that HSM-77 Saberhawks and HSC-12 Golden Falcons will change their permanent duty stations from Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island, Calif., and become part of the FDNF at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi; HS-14 Chargers will change its permanent duty station from NAF Atsugi to NAS North Island; and HSL-51 Warlords will transition aircraft to a new airframe and remain in place at NAF Atsugi and be renamed HSM-51. The squadron changes of duty stations and aircraft transition began on 17 Sept. 2012 and is expected to be complete by December 2013.
In 1972, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to share ownership of the base. Atsugi currently hosts Carrier Air Wing 5, part of aircraft carrier USS George Washington's air component. The wing includes about 70 aircraft and 2,000 military personnel who are stationed at Atsugi when the carrier is in port at Yokosuka.
On 30 November 2010, the F/A-18C of VFA-195 had left NAF Atsugi, the squadron will start transition to Super Hornet. Carrier Air Wing Five will be the first wing totally equipped with Super Hornets without legacy Hornets.
In February 2012 the Gauntlets of VAQ-136 left Atsugi and relocated NAS Whidbey Island to transition to the EA-18G Growler. The Shadowhawks of VAQ-141, who previously deployed with Carrier Air Wing 8 in 2011 will redeploy to Atsugi with the EA-18G Growler to take the place of the Gauntlets. No word has been mentioned yet if the transfer will be permanent, or if the Gauntlets will return after switching to the Growler.
CVW-5 shares the base with the Headquarters Fleet Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.