F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Photo: US Air Force handout via Reuters
F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Photo: US Air Force handout via Reuters

The US Air Force, in the face of rising tensions with North Korea, will deploy a dozen F-35A Lightning stealth fighters to Japan next month.

It marks the US Pacific Command’s first operational tasking for the aircraft in the theater.

The Air Force says about 300 airmen and 12 F-35A Lightning IIs from Utah’s 34th Fighter Squadron will deploy to Kadena Air Base, Japan for a six-month rotation. The aircraft and its supporting personnel are scheduled to arrive at Kadena air base in early November.

“The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander. “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

The F-35A is Air Force’s conventional takeoff and landing model of the Lightning. It is the smallest and lightest version of the fifth-generation fighter and is the only one armed with an internal cannon that can be used against ground targets.

While touted as a first in-theater deployment for the F-35A, the Marine Corps F-35B variant has been stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan since January 2017. The Marine Corps version is a vertical take-off aircraft.

In related news, the US Navy says the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group has steamed into the western Pacific and will conduct integrated operations with other US ships in the region. This is expected to include the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group which is currently operating in waters near the Korean peninsula.

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