Japan’s air force stood up its first operational F-35A fighter squadron, the 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, on 29 March.
The stealth fighter replaces the squadron’s aging, third-generation Mitsubishi F-4EJ Kai fighters, which are Japanese-licensed variants of the Vietnam-era McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The squadron is stationed at Misawa Air Base, which is near the northernmost point of Japan’s main island.
F-35 Joint Program Office
Japan now joins a growing number of military services with operational F-35 squadrons: the US Marine Corps, US Navy, US Air Force, Israeli Air Force, Italian Air Force, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
“This is a major milestone for the F-35 enterprise, as it marks the first F-35 IOC for an Indo-Pacific region customer,” says Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 programme executive officer. “This significant achievement is a testament to the global nature of this programme, and the F-35 Joint Programme Office (JPO) values the long-established bond with our Japan allies. This could not have happened without the hard work and collaboration between the F-35 JPO, the Japan F-35 programme, our industry partners and the Japanese Air Self Defense Force.”
The first aircraft to be assigned to the 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron was also the second F-35A assembled at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ F-35 Final Assembly and Check-Out facility in Nagoya, Japan. Japan is one of four F-35 foreign military sales countries, along with Israel, South Korea and Belgium.
According to the F-35 JPO, more than 360 operational F-35s have been built and delivered worldwide. Those aircraft have collectively flown more than 177,000 flight hours, with more than 760 F-35 pilots and 6,900 maintainers trained to operate and support the aircraft.