The first of 42 F-35s ordered for the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) was delivered on November 29th at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. A contingent of JASDF pilots traveled to the base to accept the plane and begin familiarizing themselves with the new platform. JASDF technicians started training for the F-35 platform in Florida as well. Japan is the first nation in the Foreign Military Sale program (FMS) to train pilots and technicians on the F-35. Except for Japan, only partner countries in the development of the F-35 have taken deliveries of the plane.
The first four planes of the 42 plane order are to be assembled in The Lockheed Martin Factory in Fort Worth, Texas. The remaining 38 aircraft will be assembled in the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Final Assembly and Check-Out facility in Nagoya, Japan. Japan may procure more F-35s in the future to replace its aging fleet of F-4 Phantoms and F-15 Eagles. The Lockheed Martin factory in Texas is one of the largest aircraft manufacturing facilities in the US, supporting around 41,000 jobs. The numerous parts that go into the final assembly of the aircraft come from as many as 45 states, sustaining up to 133,000 jobs.
For Texas, Japan is a very important market. Japan buys over $8 billion of goods and services from the state annually, directly and indirectly supporting 46000 jobs. Besides Japan, Texas has had a strong relationship with Asia in general. This relationship is reflected in a wide range of engagement, like troop rotations, educational exchanges, and Congressional visits to Japan.
The F-35 fighter has been touted as the greatest multi-role fighter ever built, boasting a low-radar signature, state-of-the-art sensors, and advanced communications and weapons systems. Its modularity allows it to replace and perform the roles of multiple existing aircraft, consolidating logistics and training. However, the F-35 program has experienced numerous development hurdles and cost overruns. Despite the downsides, the F-35 has been meeting recent development and delivery benchmarks, including this delivery to the JASDF.
Steven Shao is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the George Washington University.