"The US Navy places its most advanced and combat-capable units in the forward deployed naval force. This future upgrade will enhance the capabilities of the air wing and its mission to defend Japan and contribute to regional security," Naval Forces Japan spokesman Reann Mommsen told Stars and Stripes on Monday.
The F-35 comes in three variants: F-35A for the US Air Force, F-35B for the US Marine Corps and F-35C for the US Navy. The F-35A and F-35B are currently deployed around the world, but the F-35C has yet to be declared operational for missions. The jets' delays have been so severe as to force the government buy 24 new F/A-18 Super Hornets in its recently passed omnibus spending bill.
A squadron of F-35Bs with the 31st US Marine Expeditionary Unit was flying around the East China Sea in early March as part of a forward deployment on the USS Wasp amphibious assault ship.
While some military analysts point to aircraft carriers as a relic of the past, the US Department of Defense clearly sees naval aviation as an important part of national security. The US Navy is building large new Ford-class supercarriers and Washington seems eager to make a double-buy on carriers next year.
In addition to expanding the supercarrier fleet from 10 to 12 as a matter of standard policy — a policy called for by a force restructuring review and signed into law by President Donald Trump in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act — the Marines' amphibious assault vessels have been"optimized for aviation capability," according to a fact sheet.
Two of the three F-35 models are dedicated strictly to naval aviation. According to warplane manufacturer Lockheed Martin, "the F-35C variant has larger wings and more robust landing gear than the other variants, making it suitable for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments aboard naval aircraft carriers. Its wingtips also fold to allow for more room on the carrier's deck while deployed."
F-35Cs recently completed more than 100 trial flights on the USS Abraham Lincoln, but to due delays with developing and testing the Block 3F software — a vital missions system — the plane likely won't reach initial operating status until 2019.