F-35 Asia

The US Department of Defence (DoD) has selected Japan and Australia for the maintenance and upgrade of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter based or operating in the Pacific region.

F-35 Joint Program Office programme executive officer Air Force lieutenant general Christopher Bogdan said Japan will perform F-35 heavy air frame maintenance, repair, and overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) duties in the northern Pacific, while Australia will be responsible for the southern Pacific.

Australia will offer initial heavy engine maintenance capability by early 2018, whereas additional capability would be provided by Japan after three to five years, Bogdan added.

After Japan achieves heavy engine capability, the F-35 Program Office will assess the footprint and distribution of F-35’s in the Pacific to see if the decisions are still appropriate and need any kind of adjustments in terms of the assignment capabilities and moving forward.

The Pentagon recently selected Italy and Turkey for F-35 MRO&U duties in Europe.

According to Bogdan, the Japanese final assembly and check-out facility would differ from the facilities in Italy and Fort Worth, US, as it is being constructed vertically to allow manufacturing on a number of different floors.

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Similar to the European site, Japan would be responsible for the funding and construction of its facility, which will be operated by a local company.

"Australia being selected to provide regional support reflects the world-leading capabilities our Defence and Aerospace industries possess, it is an outstanding endorsement."

Australian Defence Minister David Johnston said: "Australia being selected to provide regional support reflects the world-leading capabilities our Defence and Aerospace industries possess, it is an outstanding endorsement.

"Australia is well-placed to be assigned further work as part of the F-35 global support system."

Meanwhile, South Korea has refused to get its F-35s serviced by Japan, and said it would instead send its fighters to Australia for MRO&U activities.

A South Korea Defence Acquisition Program Administration official said: "There will never be a case where our fighter jets will be taken to Japan for maintenance.

"South Korea has the right to decide where to conduct maintenance for its F-35 jets, and it will decide whenever the need arises."

Meanwhile, assignments for other F-35 components, systems and repair capabilities are scheduled to be determined for both Europe and the Pacific over the next two years.

Image: An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean. Photo: US Navy photo, courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe.