The United States (US) and its allies will be deploying about 200 Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth generation fighters in the Asia-Pacific region alone within the next six years or by 2025, Gen. Charles Brown, commander of the US Pacific Air Forces said during a recent interview at the headquarters of the Pacific Air Forces in the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu.
“The Pacific Air Forces will receive F-35A jets in less than a year,” he said, adding that they need to enhance capabilities in the region, by conducting joint exercises with the F-35s owned by Japan, South Korea and Australia.
According to Brown, China is posing an “existential” threat to the US by rapidly expanding its military capabilities, The Japan Times reported Saturday.
China has planned to deploy the Dongfeng-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam, which the Pacific Air Force wants to counter by adopting tactics that rely on the rapid movements of relatively small units, instead of intensively deploying troops at large bases.
Brown said the “real key part” of the F-35 is not only its strike platform but also its sensor. “With its sensor, the F-35 can provide helpful information for the US forces’ decision-making and mission execution in times of contingencies,” Brown explained.
“Promotion of F-35 deployment by its allies and partner countries would give the US ‘flexibility’ in its tactics of keeping small units on the move,” he added taking note of Singapore’s interest to acquire the fifth-generation fighters.
South Korea has ordered a total of 40 F-35 jets in a 2014 contract that is valued at $6.8 billion. Two of the jets were delivered last month.
Australia has invested over $12.27 billion to acquire 72 Joint Strike Fighters to replace ageing Boeing Hornets. Two jets were delivered in December last year and two more are scheduled for delivery this month. Eight additional aircraft will be delivered by the end of 2019.
Japan’s Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) currently has 13 F-35A fighters. Five of the 13 jets have been involved in seven emergency landings, according to a report released by Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
One fighter crashed during a routine exercise over the Pacific Ocean on April 9. Search is still underway for the pilot and the aircraft body. The crash jet was also involved in two emergency landings.
The crash came after the Japanese government unveiled in December last year its plan to procure more F-35 fighters to replace outdated F-15 jets. In fiscal 2019-2023, the country will purchase 45 F-35s.