The US Navy has confirmed that it plans to deploy the F-35C Lightning, the carrier version of the advanced stealth warplane, to Japan sometime after 2021.
US military newspaper Stars and Stripes has quoted a Navy spokesperson as saying that an unspecified number of the catapult-capable planes will be sent to the US Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan.
“The US Navy places its most advanced and combat-capable units in the forward deployed naval force,” Commander Reann Mommsen told Stars and Stripes in an email. “This future upgrade will enhance the capabilities of the air wing and its mission to defend Japan and contribute to regional peace and security.”
The F-35Cs are expected to be assigned to Carrier Air Wing 5 of the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group. The navy bases its carrier-capable fighters on both land and sea as the need arises.
The F-35C carrier variant boasts larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, larger wing and tail control surfaces. This is said to give it improved low-speed control. The plane also has stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier arrested landings. The larger wing area allows for decreased landing speed while increasing both range and weapons payload.
Other F-35 variants are the F-35A standard takeoff US Air Force version and the F-35B vertical take off and landing (VTOL) maritime version that can operate from ship decks and short landing strips. The F-35B has already been deployed aboard the USS Wasp, a US Navy amphibious assault ship that is based in Japan and at Iwakuni.
Critics have alleged that the development and deployment of the F-35C is behind schedule, though the navy has rebuffed such reports. The F-35C deployment was first reported in The Japan News.