• Kyodo

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The United States Defense Department has chosen Japan and Australia to be its maintenance hubs for F-35 stealth fighter jets in the Asia-Pacific region, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

Both nations will have some facilities operational by 2018, offering heavy airframe maintenance for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet. Australia will provide engine maintenance for the southern Pacific from early 2018, followed by Japan for the northern Pacific three to five years later, the Pentagon said.

The decision comes as the U.S. aims to set up maintenance hubs globally for the F-35 strike fighter in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. In Europe, the department has chosen Italy and Turkey.

Japan plans to equip the Air Self-Defense Force with 42 of the jets, which are being developed by an international consortium.

“It will help maintain the capabilities of the domestic defense industry and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,” a Defense Ministry official said.

Airframe maintenance will be handled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Komaki Minami plant in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, while IHI Corp. will provide engine maintenance at its plant in Mizuho, Tokyo.

Maintenance work will be provided for the ASDF’s 42 F-35s, and those to be deployed to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the ministry said.

In April, Japan adopted new principles to facilitate the transfer of defense equipment and technology, a move supporters see as bolstering security ties with other countries but which opponents fear will undermine Japan’s postwar pacifist stance.

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