Japan prepares to stand up first F-35 operational unit

By: Mike Yeo November 28, 2018

Lt. Col. Nakano, of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, sits in the cockpit of an F-35 before departing on his first solo sortie at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr./U.S. Air Force)

TOKYO — Japan has graduated its first locally trained class of five F-35 pilots and is on track to make its first unit operational, according to a senior official with Japan’s F-35 program.

Joel Malone told Defense News at the Japan International Aerospace Exhibition in Tokyo that the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is continuing to train more pilots, maintainers and other support personnel on the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

F-35 jets with the JASDF are assigned to the Rinji F-35 Hkoutai, a temporary JASDF unit. Following the training of five more pilots and the delivery of more F-35s, the aircraft will be transferred to the JASDF’s 302 Hikoutai, which will retire its McDonnell Douglas/Mistubishi F-4EJ Kai Phantom IIs and move from Hyakuri, north of Tokyo, to Misawa in March 2019.