Asia Defense | Security | East Asia

Work Stopped at F-35A Facility in Japan Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Lockheed Martin suspended assembly of the F-35A aircraft at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries facility in Japan out of concern over the spread of the coronavirus.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Work Stopped at F-35A Facility in Japan Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Credit: Japan Air Self Defense Force

U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin temporarily suspended the production of the fifth-generation Lightning II F-35A stealth fighter aircraft at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya, Japan, according to Ellen Lord, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Work at the FACO facility in Nagoya has been paused for a week, Lord revealed at the annual McAleese conference in Washington D.C., Defense News reported on March 4. Despite the temporary suspension of work “right now, it doesn’t look like it is affecting deliveries” of the F-35A, Lord was quoted as saying at the conference. “Right now we have not seen any effects.”

The FACO facility cost around $1 billion to build. A total of 38 F-35As are scheduled to be assembled there. In 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency stated that assembling an F-35A in Japan costs over $30 million more than importing the same aircraft in fly-away condition from the United States.

Japan selected the F-35A as its next-generation fighter aircraft in December 2011 and placed an initial order for 42 jets. In December 2018, the Japanese government ordered an additional 63 F-35As, the aircraft’s conventional take-off and landing variant, and 42 F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.

In the current fiscal year, which began this month, Japan is set to buy six F-35Bs at a cost of $725 million as well as three F-35As for $85.7 million each, to be assembled at the FACO facility in Nagoya. All F-35 components are manufactured abroad and brought for final assembly to Japan.

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Japan has not been granted access by the United States to some of the more sensitive F-35A technologies during the assembly process.

The Japan Air Self Defense Force’s first four F-35As were all built in the United States. To date, MHI’s FACO was expected to deliver 15 F-35As to the Japanese military.

The JASDF stood up its first operational F-35A fighter squadron on in March 2019.

One JASDF F-35A crashed into the Pacific Ocean off northern Japan 11 months ago. According to 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.

As I reported previously, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $25.2 million contract in September by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to build a maintenance repair and upgrade facility for the F-35 in Nagoya.