The F-35 program celebrated the delivery of the 200th operational jet this week. The aircraft, the second destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), departed Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production facility for Luke Air Force Base, where it will be used to train Japanese pilots. Meanwhile, an official Pentagon progress report mentions continued delays in the F-35’s development and testing schedule.
Along with the delivery of the 200th jet, Lockheed Martin reports that the entire program has now logged 75,000 flight hours while training more than 380 pilots and 3,700 maintainers. Also, the year 2017 kicked off favourably for the F-35, with the first deployment of operational jets to Japan.
However – apart from Donald Trump’s fierce remarks on the F-35 – the program’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) mentions delay after delay in development and testing in a fresh report released this week by the Pentagon. The delays among other issues concern development of the ‘full warfighting capability’ block 3i software, plus problems related to weapons delivery and the aircaft’s gun system, which is now being tested. Also, the report mentions the issues US Navy pilots experience during catapult launches.
Structural deficiencies are reported in the aircraft’s tail section. Furthermore, a new version of the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was supposed to be released in 2016, but this failed to materialize. During operational tests, maintainance crews struggled with the huge amounts of data ALIS generates.
As a result, Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) will likely not start as scheduled in August 2017, but perhaps as late as in 2019.
The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi (McDonnell Douglas) F-15J/DJ Eagles are facing an update program that is aimed solely at them being able to throw more into the face of advancing Chinese combat pilots.
That is in short the analysis of the Tokyo plans with the spearhead of the Japanese airborne air-defence. Of the more than 220 built F-15J/DJ air supiority fighters the first 40 will see their air-to-air missile load doubled to 16 pieces, half of it short-range, the other half medium-/long-range.
Sweeping the skies
According to sources in Tokyo once airborne these F-15s should be able to stop or slow down a large-scale Chinese air attack, sweeping the skies clean enough of Chinese fighter jets and attack aircraft to last another day. Japan military sources – quoted also by Nikkei – are said to be worried by a more and more active Chinese air force and naval air arm.
Earlier this year the JASDF moved one of its F-15CJ/DJ squadrons from Tsuiki Airbase in the Fukuoka area to Naha Airbase on Okinawa. Although closer to China by at least 215 miles (400 km) it leaves a direct flight line to mainland Japan and Tokyo more open. Apparently Japan is more worried with the Chinese reaching Okinawa for a limited military operation than it is for a large scale long-distance attack further into Japanese airspace.
Naha Air Base now has about 40 F-15CJ/DJ combat jets on strength. They may be the first to carry 16 air-to-air missiles in the near future.
The Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) on Monday 15 August released the first images of its first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The aircraft is one of four to be built by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The remaining 38 JASDF Lightnings will be build in a brand new Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) in Nagoya, Japan.
According to the JASDF, the first F-35 is to ground tested in Fort Worth in August. Test flights should begin soon after. The introduction of the stealthy jet will be mean the beginning of the end for the F-4 Phantom in Japanese service.
The aircraft formerly known as ATD-X, the X-2 Shinshin, first flew in Japan on Friday 22 April. The aircraft, a stealth technology demonstrator built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), took off from Nagoya Airport and went through a series of trials to confirm basic maneuvers including climbing, descent and circling operations. It then landed at nearby Gifu Air Base.
After completing the maiden flight, MHI described the flight experience as “extremely stable’. Control of the aircraft went exactly as in simulated training sessions, the compnay said. MHI also states its positive the X-2 will meet Japan’s Ministry of Defense’s requirements.”
The X-2 is a prototype stealth aircraft engineered for extremely high maneuverability. The prototype integrates an airframe, engines, and other advanced systems and equipment all adaptable to future fighters. The X-2 has been in development since 2009
The future for the aircraft and its technology is by no means clear, however. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) will receive the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in the not-so-far future, replacing ageing F-4 Phantoms. Also, the last military jet developed in Japan by Mitsubishi, the F-2, never proved very successful.
The first of four Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has entered production at the new production plant in St. Augustine, Florida, the company has confirmed.
Bringing together what was previously spread out over several buildings, the 121,390 square metres (370,000 square foot) assembly hall can currently produce eight aircraft a year, to be increased to a maximum of 12 Hawkeyes in 365 days if needed.
13 E-2Cs in service
The Delta Hawkeyes are equipped with APY-9 Radars, and will join 13 JASDF E-2Cs already flying with 1st Hiko Keikai Kanshitai (squadron) out of Misawa Airbase, although Tokyo is considering locating the new E-2Ds at a different location.
US Navy Advanced Hawkeye
Apart from the Japanese military, the US Navy ordered 51 E-2Ds, with 22 of them delivered so far. The first operational cruise of the Delta occurred last year, with VAW-125 “Tigertails” squadron on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The Japanese Advanced Hawkeyes will be land-based only, with the first planned to arrive in 2018.