Japan steps back from F-35 assembly

20 January 2019

Japan completed its first locally assembled F-35 in 2017. However, Tokyo now plans to wind down F-35 production activities in favour of concentrating on providing maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for the aircraft. Source: Lockheed Martin

Japan is preparing to step back from its assembly of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II fighters and instead concentrate on providing maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade (MRO&U) services for the aircraft, the Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA) has confirmed to Jane's .

A spokesperson for ATLA - an agency under the Ministry of Defense (MoD) - said on 17 January that, under the plan, two local companies will lead activities: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' (MHI's) Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works in Aichi will provide MRO&U for the F-35 airframe, while the IHI Corporation's Mizuho plant in Tokyo will provide MRO&U support for the aircraft's Pratt & Whitney F135 engine.

The ATLA spokesperson added, "Japanese industry's participation in F-35 maintenance work is expected to [ensure] F-35 operational and maintenance capability, as well as maintaining, promoting, and developing [Japan's] technological foundation [through involvement] in cutting-edge fighter technologies and know-how."

Japan is scheduled to commence its focus on F-35 MRO&U activity in the early 2020s. Until then, MHI will continue to operate its final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility, also based in Nagoya, at which Japan's initial batches of F-35s are being assembled.

Supporting the FACO and F-35s ordered by Japan between 2015 and 2018, IHI Corp is currently producing parts for the F135 engine, while Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (Melco) is manufacturing F-35 mission system components under licence from Northrop Grumman. Under Japan's MRO&U plan, these local manufacturing programmes will also cease in favour of local maintenance support for the F-35 airframe and engine.

The ATLA spokesperson said the plan to focus on MRO&U instead of local assembly and production had been influenced by the US government decision in 2014 to assign Japan as MRO provider for F-35 airframe and engine in the Northern Pacific region.

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