The Japan Air Self-Defense Force's first F-35A stealth fighter arrives at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 26, 2018.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force's first F-35A stealth fighter arrives at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 26, 2018. (Deana Heitzman/U.S. Air Force)

TOKYO — The State Department has approved a potential $23.11 billion sale of 105 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to Japan, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

“It is vital to U.S. national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” said an agency notice to Congress on Thursday about the possible sale.

Japan already operates a squadron of 14 F-35A fighters capable of conventional takeoffs and landings at Misawa Air Base in the country’s northeast and has 28 more on the way.

The country has asked to buy another 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs — the short-takeoff and vertical-landing versions of the aircraft — the agency said.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-4 Phantom II aircraft are being decommissioned as F-35s are added, the agency said.

“Japan will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces,” it said.

Nyutabaru Air Base in Shintomi, Miyazaki prefecture, is a possible base for the F-35B, according to a Japan News/Yomiuri report published in February 2018.

The multirole aircraft could operate from relatively short commercial runways on remote islands, the outlets reported.

Japan’s Defense Ministry in August requested the equivalent of about $29 million, to repair and upgrade the helicopter destroyer JS Izumo by installing guide lights and improving the heat-tolerance of the carrier’s flight deck to accommodate F-35Bs.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which has flown F-35Bs out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, since January 2017, demonstrated the jets’ ability to fly from an amphibious ship near Japan in March 2018 when a detachment operated from the amphibious-assault ship USS Wasp, at the time based at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan.

Japan’s latest F-35 order would include 110 Pratt and Whitney F135 engines, electronic warfare systems, computers, navigation and communications equipment, software, tools and various other equipment associated with the aircraft, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in its statement.

Defense contractors Lockheed Martin, whose Fort Worth, Texas, plant developed the F-35, and Pratt and Whitney, of East Hartford, Conn., will fill the order, according to the agency statement.

The proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy goals and national security objectives by improving the security of a major ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region, the agency said. The notice also states the pending aircraft sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

It would augment Japan’s operational aircraft inventory and enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground self-defense capability, the agency said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Aya Ichihashi contributed to this report. Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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