First Japanese-assembled F-35A Is Rolled Out

 - June 6, 2017, 3:21 AM
A ceremonial rollout of the first F-35A to be assembled in Japan was attended by 200 guests. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) rolled out the first Japanese-assembled F-35A fighter in a ceremony at Komaki on June 5. The stealth jet is one of 38 for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) that will emerge from MHI’s Final Assembly and Checkout Facility (FACO) for the F-35. Four more have been completed and delivered from Lockheed Martin’s assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.  

“Seeing the first Japanese built F-35A is a testament to the global nature of this program,” said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the U.S. government's new F-35 program executive officer. “The F-35 will enhance the strength of our security alliances and reinforce long-established bonds with our allies through training opportunities, exercises and military-to-military events,” he continued.

Separately, MHI’s Komaki facility has been designated by the F-35 Joint Program Office as the North Asia-Pacific regional heavy airframe Maintenance Repair Overhaul & and Upgrade (MROU) facility. However, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), which is the other regional customer for the F-35, has objected to sending its aircraft to Japan for MROU.

The JASDF is replacing aging F-4s with the F-35 but must also eventually replace its F-15s. Japan might therefore order additional F-35s, but another option would be to proceed with a production version of the country’s own stealth fighter, the X-2. Coincidentally, MHI also produced this advanced technology demonstrator at Komaki, from where it made a maiden flight in April 2016. Presumably, the U.S. has ensured that the stealth technology of the F-35 has been "ring-fenced" from that employed on the X-2, which is now being flight-tested by the JASDF at Gifu airbase. 

In a 2015 statement referring to the F-35 FACO and MROU, MHI said that it was "gaining expertise in a variety of state-of-the-art technologies and manufacturing capabilities, through its involvement in advanced fighter aircraft under the direction of the Ministry of Defense.” But, the company continued, “at the same time, we aim to take part in independent development of fighter aircraft in Japan.”