Just before the end of January 2018, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) announced that it had deployed its first operational F-35 at Misawa Air Base.
Misawa Air Base is shared by the JASDF and the U.S. Air Force, and located in the northernmost part of Japan's Aomori Prefecture.
"The F-35A will bring transformation in air defense power and significantly contribute to the peace for citizens and ensure security," JASDF 3rd Air Wing Commander Major General Kenichi Samejima said.
"All service members will do their best to secure flight safety and promptly establish an operational squadron structure step-by-step."
American officials at the base also welcomed the development, with the commander of the U.S.'s 35th Fighter Wing, Colonel R. Scott Jobe, saying that U.S. pilots "look forward to training alongside our JASDF counterparts and continuing to enhance the safety and security of Japan together."
The F-35 will be the most advanced fighter jet in the JASDF arsenal. Nine more F-35s are planned to be deployed by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
In all, Japan intends to field at least 42 F-35s over the next few years. The first four F-35s were made in the U.S., and the remaining 38 will be assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.
Despite some controversies like cost overruns and the issue that no Japanese-made parts will be in the future jets, the F-35 is seen as essential for the JASDF in countering an increasingly capable and aggressive China.
Japan has reportedly been mulling replacing the helicopters on their Izumo-class helicopter carrier with the short vertical take-off and landing (SVTOL) variant of the F-35 that is fielded by the U.S. Marine Corps, something that China has warned against.