Lockheed Martin rolled out the first 42 F-35As ordered by the Japan Air Self Defence Forces to replace a nearly 80-strong fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.

The stealthy fighter, featuring advanced radar, electronic warfare and an internal weapons bay, is expected to play a key role in Japan's elevated security posture. JASDF ordered the F-35 after the unveiling in China of the Chengdu J-20, a new fighter with a stealthy profile in development for the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

“As the security environment surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe, because of its excellence, it is very significant for the defense of Japan to commit to acquiring the F-35 year by year,” Kenji Wakamiya, Japan’s State Minister of Defence told an audience at Lockheed’s production facilities in Fort Worth.

Lockheed will build the first four Japanese jets in Fort Worth, AX-1 through AX-4, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will produce the remaining 38 under license at its Nagoya facility.

MHI, which built Tokyo’s fleet of Boeing F-15Js under license, won the 2011 competition to build the F-35A.

In December, MHI began work on the first F-35A assembled in Japan, dubbed the AX-5. Work at the Nagoya facility involves the mating of the aircraft’s wings, fuselage and tail, replicating Lockheed's process in Fort Worth and Leonardo's final assembly and check out facility for the F-35 in Italy.

Maintenance training is already underway for the first Japanese Air Defense technicians at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and the first Japanese pilots will begin training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in November, Lockheed says in a news release.

Meanwhile, the US State Department approved a possible $1.9 billion foreign military sale to Japan for four Boeing KC-46A tankers, including a spare Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan engine. The sale would also include Raytheon's ALR-69A radar warning receiver and Northrop Grumman's Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system, according to a release earlier this week from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

Source: FlightGlobal.com