Asia Defense

US Deploys 12 F-35A Stealth Fighters to Japan

Recent Features

Asia Defense

US Deploys 12 F-35A Stealth Fighters to Japan

All 12 U.S. F-35A stealth fighter jets have now arrived on the Japanese island of Okinawa and begun operations.

US Deploys 12 F-35A Stealth Fighters to Japan
Credit: US Pacific Command

The U.S. Air Force has completed its deployment of 12 fifth-generation stealth multirole Joint Strike Fighter F-35A Lightning II— the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing version— at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa for a six-month rotation.

The aircraft, along with more than 300 men and women of the USAF’s 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, have begun what U.S. Pacific Command on November 21 called “theater security package program” operations “designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.”

It is the first time that the USAF’s variant of the F-35 has deployed to the Pacific region.

“The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet,” General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander said last month. “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

The U.S. military now operates a total of 28 F-35s in Japan. As I reported last week, the last three out of 16 F-35Bs  of U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the service’s first overseas-deployed F-35B squadron, recently arrived at Iwakuni airbase in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The F35-B is the U.S. Marine Corps’ version of the stealth fighter and capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher. The F-35B was developed as a replacement for the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler aircraft.

The first ten F-35Bs deployed to Japan from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona in January. As I noted previously, East Asian skies will increasingly getting crowded with F-35 stealth fighters as Japan and the Republic of Korea are beginning to induct the advanced fighter jet into their militaries:

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) took delivery of its first F-35A fighter jets this year through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. (…) Japan’s Ministry of Defense selected the F-35A in December 2011 following the F-X competitive bidding process. (…) The JASDF is expected to induct a total of 42 new F-35As in the coming years.

(…)  South Korea, will begin receiving its first F-35As in 2018. The South Korean government has ordered 40 F-35A aircraft with delivery expected to be completed by 2021. South Korea has been considering procuring 20 additional F-35As.

All three militaries are slated to arm their F-35s with advanced precision-guided weapons systems to bolster their offensive capabilities including the U.S.-made Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the GBU-31JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) air-to-ground guided bomb. Japan is also considering procuring the next-generation, long-range, precision-guided Joint Strike Missile (JSM)