U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the United States would deploy F-35 stealth fighters at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in 2017.
This was the first official statement from the U.S. government regarding the timing and location of F-35 deployments in Japan, and would be the first overseas deployment of the aircraft.
During a speech in Washington on Tuesday, Panetta emphasized that the United States would deploy the state-of-the-art aircraft in the Pacific region as part of the country’s new Asia-focused defense strategy.
The planned stationing of F-35 fighters at the base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, follows the deployment of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to Okinawa Prefecture in October. The Pentagon may use the stealth fighters to replace the F/A-18 fighters currently stationed at the base.
The unstable security environment in northeast Asia is behind the planned deployment of F-35 fighters, analysts said, including China’s development of its own stealth fighter and North Korea’s improved nuclear and missile capabilities.
While emphasizing a continued commitment to the Middle East, Panetta said the United States also would expand engagements in the Asia-Pacific region, indicating that more concrete steps in Washington’s defense strategy for the region are in the works.
U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq last December and are scheduled to complete their pullout from Afghanistan in 2014. ”We will gather information on the matter by referring to the [central] government,” Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda said Wednesday, commenting on the planned F-35 deployment. “The city remains opposed to further burdens on the Iwakuni base.”
The F-35 is categorized as a state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighter jet. Its stealth capabilities makes it difficult to detect with radar and it also carries advanced sensors for detecting enemy aircraft.