The first two of 12 U.S. Air Force fifth-generation stealth multirole Joint Strike Fighter F-35A Lightning II— the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant—arrived at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa for a six-month rotation.
The F-35As are being deployed under the U.S. Pacific Command’s so-called “theater security package program,” the U.S. Air Force said in a statement. “This long-planned deployment is designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.”
The F-35As will be joined by approximately 300 airmen from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The deployment occurs amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “With a very complex security environment, including [the situation with] North Korea, [the deployment of F-35A fighters] indicates that the U.S. side is showing a certain extent of commitment to this region,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on October 27, according to Stars and Stripes.
“The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet,” said General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander. “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”
This is not the first time that a U.S. F-35 unit has deployed to Japan. A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B squadron, the service’s variant of the F-35 capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher, has been stationed at an airbase in Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture since January. The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121 currently consists of 16 F-35B aircraft.
In addition, 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.,” I reported previously. “The JASDF is expected to induct a total of 42 new F-35As in the coming years.”
Another U.S. ally, 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.
Japan’s defense minister has requested that the U.S. military actively contribute to lessening the impact of the F-35A deployment on local residents, according to Stars and Stripes. “The defense ministry will not only request the U.S. side take maximum consideration for safety but also try to reduce the burden of local residents as much as possible through relocation of trainings,” he said. “Firmly solving the security environment through diplomacy including issues with North Korea will lead to lessening the burden of Okinawa, and I would like to make that effort as a whole with the government.”