Japan has established its first operational F-35A squadron, while South Korea’s first two F-35As have arrived in that country, bringing additional F-35 capabilities and operators into the region.
The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) established the 302nd Squadron, an element of its 3rd Air Wing at Misawa Air Base on Honshu on March 29. The first F-35As arrived at Misawa in January 2018, and the unit will have an eventual complement of 12 F-35As which have replaced the Mitsubishi F-4EJ-Kai Phantom in service.
“This is a major milestone for the F-35 enterprise, as it marks the first F-35 IOC for an Indo-Pacific region customer,” F-35 program executive officer VAdm Mat Winter, said in a statement. “This significant achievement is a testament to the global nature of this program, and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) values the long-established bond with our Japan allies. This could not have happened without the hard work and collaboration between the F-35 JPO, the Japan F-35 program, our industry partners and the Japanese Air Self Defense Force.”
Japan’s first four F-35As were built by Lockheed Martin at Fort Worth, while the 302nd’s remaining aircraft will be manufactured by Mitsubishi in Japan. Japan last December increased its planned order from 42 F-35As aircraft to a total of 147 aircraft, including 42 short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs to be deployed aboard its Izumo class helicopter destroyers.
And then in January, Japan announced that it would discontinue local production and instead take the increased aircraft order direct from Lockheed Martin.
In the meantime, the Republic of Korea Air Force’s first two of 40 F-35As arrived in-country on March 29, flying in to Cheongju in North Chungcheong Province from the F-35 International Training Centre at Luke AFB in Arizona where they had been involved in training Korea’s first crews and maintenance personnel.
Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said it was expecting a further eight F-35As would be delivered this year. “We expect the deployment of the stealth fighters could enhance the Air Force’s operational capabilities by strengthening military readiness posture against possible threats from all fronts,” DAPA chief Wang Jung-Hong told local media.
The first ROKAF F-35A was rolled out at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth in January 2018, and the first flight by a ROKAF pilot was conducted at Luke AFB that July. A video of the ROKAF F-35A arrival can be seen here.
Australia took delivery of its first two F-35As at RAAF Williamtown last December, and will accept a further eight aircraft this year, while the US Marine Corps has forward deployed in Japan and embarked on the LHD USS Wasp. Elsewhere in the region, Singapore indicated in January its intention to acquire the F-35.