US Sends Stealth Jet Fighters to Japan
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is headed to Japan to be "the cornerstone" of US defense in the Pacific.
It is the most expensive and one of the most controversial weapon systems in US' history. The first of 16 US Marine Corps F-35Bs left Arizona on Monday, on the initial overseas deployment for the stealth jet fighters.
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The planes will be stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakumi, on the Japanese main island of Honshu, a short distance from Hiroshima.
In an email to the media, First Lt. Karoline Foote of the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan said that sending the $104 million jets to Iwakumi signals the US' "commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the U.S inventory."
Foote said that the fighter planes will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force. He added that the mission will possess flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats.
The single-engine F-35 has three variants. The US Air Force flies the A version, the B version is flown by the Marines, and the C version is part of the US Navy's fleet.
The F-35 is sold to and produced by US allies around the world, including Japan, which received its first unit in December.
Analysts believe that the presence of the hi-tech jets in Japan is a statement towards the current and potential adversaries in the region.
Corey Wallace, Japan security analyst at Freie University in Germany, said that the deployment signals the priority that the US government and its armed forces place on the Japan-US alliance at this particular time.
"The deployment of the most modern and most capable equipment to Japan strengthens the deterrence of the Japan-US alliance, and contributes to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region," Japan's Ministry of Defense said.
Tensions between Japan and China have ramped up since last year as the two countries squabble over the control of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
According to US Defense officials, the F-35 is better than top Chinese stealth fighters such as the J-20.