It’s no secret that Japan has been vying to field 5th generation fighters for the better part of the last 20 years, marked by constant overtures to the US government to open up foreign mass sales of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. They’ll have to settle, to an extent, with a consolation prize in the form of Lockheed Martin’s second 5th generation product, the F-35A Lightning II multirole stealth fighter. The first four F-35A they’ll take delivery of was built at Lockheed’s Fort Worth (Texas) plant, which will be responsible for building the vast majority of American and export F-35s, while the remaining 38 Lightning IIs that’ll be picked up as part of the deal will be built overseas by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries under license in Nagoya, Japan.
Japan will more than likely deploy their F-35s to bases with high alert rates, especially Naha on Okinawa, which was forced to scramble fighters more than 571 times over the course of FY 2015. Those are Battle of Britain-esque numbers, if you didn’t already know. Japan hopes that the advanced networking and sensor fusion-based detection systems, coupled with the aircraft’s stealthy radar-defeating build, will give them a much-needed advantage over China’s upcoming 5th generation fighters, which will most probably be used to harass Japanese airspace, as current-generation Chinese fighters have done consistently in recent history.
China faces a double whammy in the form of two F-35 operators in the region… namely, Japan and the Republic of Korea, though Chinese defense officials have typically only really focused themselves on Japan over the past twenty-plus years, rather than pay more attention to the RoK, which itself has its own issues to deal with… cough cough, North Korea. Eventually, Japan will build an advanced 5th generation air superiority fighter of its own, which will replace the country’s aging F-15, F-2 and F-4 fleets, and serve as a companion fighter of sorts to the F-35, similar to how the US Air Force structures its own fighter fleets (F15/F-16, F-22/F-35). Japan’s first F-35 pilots will be trained at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.