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Heading east: Japan emerges as key military ally for Europe

An Italian Air Force G550 CAEW aircraft (far left) flies with one ITAF KC-767A, two ITAF F-35A Lightning II fighters, and four Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s over Japan on 8 August. (Japan Ministry of Defense)

Japan is emerging as a key military partner for Europe amid deteriorating security and rising power competition in the Indo-Pacific. For the first time, both the French Air and Space Force (FASF) and the Italian Air Force (ITAF) recently deployed aircraft in Japan for exercises with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). The deployments reflect Japan's recognition that deepening military ties with foreign partners is critical to its national defence strategy.

According to the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD), the FASF operated two Rafales, one A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), and one A400M from the JASDF's Nyutabaru Air Base from 26 to 29 July. The ITAF deployed other aircraft to the JASDF's Komatsu Air Base between 4 and 8 August.

These included four Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighters, three out of four Boeing KC-767A air-to-air refuellers in ITAF service, one Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transport aircraft in oceanic search-and-rescue (SAR) configuration, and one of two Israel Aerospace Industries Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) aircraft in ITAF service.

These aircraft comprise “very different operational characteristics” compared with the types of aircraft the ITAF earlier used for expeditionary capability operations and development, the ITAF told Janes.

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