Networked F-35s: How Japan and the U.S. Will Fight Above the Pacific

Networked F-35s: How Japan and the U.S. Will Fight Above the Pacific

The United States has now forward-positioned F-35s for training exercises at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.

Japan’s massive F-35 stealth fighter acquisition is a development of enormous consequence when it comes to deterring China or destroying any kind of fast-evolving People’s Liberation Army Navy attack in the Indo-Pacific.

The large Japanese purchase, put in place last year, will put large numbers of F-35Bs and F-35As within striking range of waters near Taiwan. These aircraft, particularly when combined with or networked to forward-positioned U.S. F-35s launching from amphibious vessels or carriers, could mass a powerful fifth-generation force in the event of an allied response to a Chinese attack.

Indeed fifth-generation aircraft may be the best deterrent when it comes to China, given that F-35s from any country are engineered to quickly integrate with F-35s from other militaries in a seamless, secure, and interoperable way through the aircraft’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL). Large numbers of available Japanese F-35s, therefore, could instantly operate as though they were part of an American force.

These factors may help explain why the United States has now forward-positioned F-35s for training exercises at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. American and Japanese forces will soon be conducting extensive drills and maritime combat exercises to ensure readiness and deterrence.  Interestingly, a report from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command made it clear that the F-35 deployments aim to “maintain readiness to fulfill U.S. obligations under the mutual security treaty to defend Japan, and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Indo-Pacific Command report said the F-35s began “Agile Combat Employment” (ACE) exercises, which aim to refine and strengthen existing tactics and procedures fundamental to any military operation in the region.

“ACE is a scheme of maneuver to increase survivability and continue to generate combat power despite enemy attacks on forward airfields. These tactics complicate enemy targeting and enhance flexibility for friendly forces,” the report says.

Much of the planned ACE collaborative training includes a multi-domain focus, as the Air Force’s F-35As will be operating alongside U.S. Marine Corps ship-based F-35B fighters.

“While here, the 354th AEW will integrate with  U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force to strengthen partnerships and enhance joint capabilities,” the Indo-Pacific Command announcement said.

This kind of air-surface synergy would be of extreme value in any military engagement in the Pacific. While an America-class amphibious assault ship can operate as many as thirteen F-35Bs, the ability to reinforce a maritime presence of fifth-generation platforms with land-launched F-35s would be a combat multiplier for both U.S. and Japanese forces. Using the F-35’s advanced Multifunction Advanced Data Link, Japanese and American air and surface fighters could coordinate missions, share data in real time, and take advantage of unprecedented attack interoperability.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.