WASHINGTON – F-35 fighters could be stationed at the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 2017 in what would be the first overseas deployment of the stealth aircraft, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday.
The F-35 is being developed by an international consortium led by U.S. aircraft giant Lockheed Martin Corp.
The envisioned deployment is part of U.S. efforts to reconfigure its global posture to emphasize the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China’s military buildup.
Panetta said in a speech in Washington that the plan to enhance the U.S. military presence and capabilities in the region includes “the first overseas deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Iwakuni in 2017.”
Panetta did not specify the number of F-35s it plans to deploy to the base in western Japan.
The Pentagon is believed to want to replace the F/A-18 fighters at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni with the F-35B, a marine variant of the F-35 capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings.
Iwakuni is expected to be used for training of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
The Pentagon is also considering deploying F-35s at the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena base in Okinawa but has not revealed any details on the possible timing.
The United States aims to procure 2,400 F-35 fighters, while Japan plans to purchase 42 for the Air Self-Defense Force.
Panetta also said the Pentagon aims to reallocate the U.S. naval fleet to achieve a ratio of 60-to-40 between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by 2020.
The United States will also locate its “most advanced aircraft in the Pacific — including new deployments of F-22s and MV-22 Ospreys to Japan,” the Pentagon chief added.