The first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) was handed over at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona on 28 November.
The arrival of aircraft 69-8701 (also designated AX-1) at the 944th Fighter Wing (FW) marks a significant milestone in the JASDF's F-35A programme to replace its ageing Mitsubishi-McDonnell Douglas F-4EJ Kai (Phantom II) aircraft that have been in service since the early 1970s.
This aircraft will join the international training fleet at Luke AFB that will instruct Foreign Military Sales (FMS) pilots and maintainers from Israel, Japan, and South Korea, along with partner nations Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and Turkey. In addition to the FMS and partner nation mission led by the 944 OG/Det 2 'Ninjas', Luke AFB is scheduled to have six US Air Force fighter squadrons made up of 144 F-35As.
Japan has committed itself to buying 28 F-35As over the next five years (six of which are under contract), and has a total requirement of 42 aircraft. After the fleet begins arriving in-country in fiscal year 2017, it will initially be based at Misawa. The initial operating unit is expected to be either 301 or 302 Squadron.
The total cost of the deal including purchasing, maintenance, and repairs is estimated at JPY1.6 trillion (USD14 billion), but this figure may rise further. With four aircraft being manufactured at Fort Worth in Texas, the remaining 38 will be licence-built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.
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