The Buzz

Japan Just Built Its Very First F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) Komaki South F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility rolled out the first Japanese-assembled F-35A Joint Strike Fighter earlier today in a ceremony attended by U.S. and Japanese dignitaries.

“Seeing the first Japanese-built F-35A is a testament to the global nature of this program” Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the new F-35 program executive officer, said.

“This state of the art assembly facility, staffed with a talented and motivated workforce, enables us to leverage industry’s unique talents and technological know-how to produce the world’s best multi-role fighter.  The F-35 will enhance the strength of our security alliances and reinforce long-established bonds with our allies through training opportunities, exercises, and military-to-military events.”

Tokyo selected the F-35 in December 2011 as a replacement for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) increasingly decrepit fleet of the F-4EJ Kai Phantoms, which were license-built by Mitsubishi. Unlike with the F-4, Japan is not license-building the F-35. Rather, Mitsubishi is assembling the jets at a FACO with “technical assistance” from Lockheed Martin under U.S. government oversight.

“Building upon our enduring relationship with Japanese industry, we are fully committed to our F-35 production partnership with MHI and our support to the Japan Ministry of Defense,” Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said at the ceremony.

Thus far, Japan has purchased 42 F-35 stealth fighters. Lockheed Martin delivered the initial four aircraft from its plant in Fort Worth, Texas, but the remaining 38 jets will be assembled in Japan.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense will use the Nagoya FACO as its North Asia-Pacific regional heavy airframe Maintenance Repair Overhaul & and Upgrade (MROU) facility for American-owned F-35.

It is possible that Japan will buy additional F-35s to replace other aircraft in the JASDF fleet such as the Boeing F-15 Eagle and the Mitsubishi F-2.

However, Japan is also investing in developing its own indigenous fifth-generation stealth fighter—which is oriented toward the air superiority role. Thus, it might forego additional F-35 purchases in favor of an indigenous aircraft—should that program ever come to fruition.

Tokyo embarked on developing its own stealth fighter after being denied permission to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter due to the so-called 1997 Obey Amendment. The Obey Amendment prohibited the United States from exporting the F-22 during its production run to even its closest allies to prevent that jet’s technology from being compromised. With its hopes of ever purchasing the F-22 dashed, Japan embarked on developing the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin, which could eventually be developed into the F-3.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.

Image: Lockheed Martin.