F-35A stealth fighters arrive in Japan for 6-month ‘theater security’ deployment
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND KEN KUNIYOSHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 31, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The first two of a dozen F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters arrived on Okinawa this week for a six-month deployment that’s part of Pacific Command’s “theater security” program.
The jets — America’s newest and most advanced stealth fighters — landed at Kadena Air Base on Monday afternoon, an Okinawa Defense Bureau spokesman said. They will be joined by 10 others from Utah’s 34th Fighter Squadron to help “demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region,” the Air Force said.
The fighters will be joined by approximately 300 airmen from Hill Air Force Base.
The jets’ arrival marks the first time the F-35A has deployed to the region after its debut at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition earlier this month, the Air Force said last week.
Air Force officials have lauded the Lightning II for its “unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats.”
“With a very complex security environment, including [the situation with] North Korea, [the deployment of F-35A fighters] indicates that the U.S. side is showing a certain extent of commitment to this region,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on Friday.
American military aircraft often draw the ire of Okinawa’s anti-base protest movement. Onodera said he has requested that the U.S. military minimize the F-35A’s impact on local residents by adhering to noise-control measures.
“The defense ministry will not only request the U.S. side take maximum consideration for safety but also try to reduce the burden of local residents as much as possible through relocation of trainings,” he said. “Firmly solving the security environment through diplomacy including issues with North Korea will lead to lessening the burden of Okinawa, and I would like to make that effort as a whole with the government.”
A squadron of F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 arrived in January at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to replace the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
The F-35A lacks the short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities of the B variant, but the airframe and its characteristics are common to both models.
Japan’s Defense Ministry included a $797 million request for six F-35As in this year’s budget.