U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $25.2 million contract last month by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to build a maintenance repair and upgrade facility for the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s (JASDF) fleet of fifth-generation Lockheed Martin Lightning II F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The facility “for the Government of Japan under the Foreign Military Sales program,” is expected to be completed by September 2022 in Nagoya, Japan, the DoD announced on August 27.
Nagoya is already home to a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility. While the JASDF’s first four F-35As were all built in the United States, MHI’s FACO plant has delivered nine F-35As to the Japanese military so far.
One JASDF F-35A Joint Strike Fighter crashed into the Pacific Ocean off northern Japan five months ago. According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD), pilot vertigo was the cause of accident on April 9 that killed the aircraft’s pilot, Major Akinori Hosomi of the 3rd Air Wing’s 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron.
The JASDF is expected to receive six more F-35As in the current Japanese fiscal year that runs from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
The JASDF has stood up its first operational F-35A fighter squadron on March 26 of this year. The service’s first F-35A unit, the 302nd Squadron, part of the JASDF’s 3rd Air Wing, is deployed at Misawa Air Base in the northern part of Honshu island.
The Japanese government selected the F-35A as Japan’s next-generation fighter aircraft in December 2011 and placed an order for 42 aircraft.
In December 2018, the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved an increase of Japan’s existing order of 42 to 147 F-35 aircraft divided up into 63 additional F-35As and 42 F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.
The Japanese MoD announced formally its decision to select the F-35B as the JASDF’s STOVL aircraft this August. Total acquisition costs for the additional 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs will likely exceed $10 billion.
The Japanese government in December 2018 also approved plans to convert the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) two largest warships — the helicopter destroyers JS Izumo, lead ship of the Izumo-class, and its sister ship the JS Kaga — into aircraft carriers capable of launching the F-35B.
“Soon this very ship will be upgraded to carry this cutting-edge aircraft,” U.S. President Donald J. Trump said during a visit aboard the JS Kaga in May 2019. “With this extraordinary new equipment, the Kaga will help our nations defend against a range of complex threats in the region and far beyond.”
Both the F-35A and F-35B will be armed with long-range standoff missiles including the next-generation, long-range, precision-guided Joint Strike Missiles (JSMs), which the aircraft can carry inside its internal weapons bay.