In August 1991 Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) closed its permanent detachment in Atsugi, Japan after 30 years and moved it to Misawa, Japan.
In the same year, VQ-1 received the first EP-3E Aries II, an upgraded version of the Aries I using modified P-3C airframes. The squadron played a key role in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Despite the harsh, difficult maintenance environment and the age of the aircraft, VQ-1 amassed nearly 1400 combat flight hours with a 100% mission completion rate. Squadron tasking included strike support, combat search and rescue, communications and over-the-horizon-targeting support to coalition forces.
On September 30, 1994, as a result of the base closure of NAS Agana in Guam, VQ-1 was notified of the homeport change to NAS Whidbey Island. Coincidentally, in July 1994, VQ-1 retired the Navy’s oldest operational P-3, EP-3E Aries I BUNO 148887. Its retirement also marked VQ-1’s transition to all EP-3E AIRIES II mission aircraft.
Atsugi base was originally built in 1938 by the Japanese Imperial Navy as Emperor Hirohito’s Naval Air Base. There were other air bases in Yokosuka, Kisarazu and Tateyama; however, these were regarded as being unfit bases for the larger planes to be used by the Japanese Navy in the future.
The base was used to train the Emperor’s pilots. The 302 Naval Aviation Corps, flew their Zero and Gekko fighters, and were the most formidable factor in Japan’s air defense during World War II, as was the 1st and 2nd Sagamino Naval Air Group. These groups used Atsugi as a strategic airfield for night actions, and worked to construct the base’s underground defense facilities to defend against U.S. B-29 air strikes during World War II. In 1944, the leaders at Atsugi developed a system of 12 caverns with connecting tunnels; parts of this system still exist today.
Following the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950, the U.S. chose Atsugi to become the principal Naval Air Station for the Far East. On December 1, 1950, Naval Air Station, Atsugi was commissioned with Captain R. C. Sutliff as the first Commanding Officer. On board were three officers and 50 enlisted men. Patrol Squadron Six became the first squadron to operate from the station in January, 1951, followed shortly thereafter by a detachment of Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 120. Commander Fleet Air, Japan moved his headquarters from Tokyo to Atsugi in April, 1951, with Captain Sutliff assuming the additional hat. At the same time, Commander Fleet Wing Six moved his headquarters from the USS Pine Island to the station. Commander, Fleet Air Western Pacific was established and headquartered at Atsugi in November, 1954.
In April 1969, Atsugi was involved in an international confrontation when an EC-121 reconnaissance plane assigned to VQ-1 (Atsugi) was reportedly shot down over the Sea of Japan by two North Korean MIGs. All 31 Navy men aboard the plane were killed. The base became a bustling community almost overnight when President Richard Nixon ordered an armada of Navy vessels to assemble in the Sea of Japan. Many Atsugi personnel toiled long hours to provide the 29 ships with logistic support. Gradually the tense situation abated, and the ships and Atsugi Base personnel returned to normal duties.
By early 1970, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) began moving in. Since then, the base has been shared by aviation elements of both nations. Although the U.S. forces continued to have access to the runway, the actual control of the runway was turned over to the JMSDF. Atsugi officially became a Naval Air Facility on July 1, 1971, with its primary mission becoming maintenance of aircraft belonging to other units and facilities.
For a time, U.S. flights were limited to aircraft belonging to the detachments maintained at Atsugi by VQ-1 and VRC-50. When carriers pulled into Naval Station (NS) Yokosuka, the pace quickened as many of the embarked aircraft flew to Naval Air Field Atsugi for maintenance.
When the USS Midway was homeported in Yokosuka, Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi became the home of Carrier Air Wing 5, the first carrier air wing to be permanently forward deployed. In 1991, the USS Independence replaced the decommissioned Midway, but CVW-5 remained to support the newer carrier. CVW-5 again cross-decked to the USS Kitty Hawk, as it replaced the USS Independence.
In August 2008, USS George Washington (CVN 73) replaced USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) as the U.S. Navy’s forward deployed carrier and CVW-5 was reassigned to George Washington. On January 14, 2014, the U.S. Navy announced that the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) would replace the USS George Washington (CVN 73) as the flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five, and in August 2015, CVW-5 cross-decked to the Ronald Reagan at San Diego.