It's Official: Air Force F-35s Will Deploy to Asia in November


Days after the F-35A Lightning II touched down in Seoul, South Korea, for the International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, known as Seoul ADEX 2017, the Air Force announced it plans to deploy a dozen of the Joint Strike Fighters to Japan next month.

Pacific Air Forces on Monday said approximately 300 airmen and 12 F-35As from the 34th Fighter Squadron, based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will fly to Kadena Air Base for a six-month rotation.

It will be the F-35A's first operational deployment to the region.

"The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet," said Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, PACAF commander.

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"The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command's obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations," he said in a release.

The F-35s will operate as a theater security package, or TSP, which are forward-deployed aircraft units that conduct missions to reassure partner and ally forces and to maintain security and stability across a region.

The news comes as the Air Force continues its pressure campaign against North Korea -- with show-of-force maneuvers from B-1B Lancer bombers alongside South Korean and Japanese fighter jets -- as the country continues to test ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads despite repeated condemnation from the international community.

Separately, two F-35s from Hill flew to Seoul last week for the ADEX air show. They were not scheduled to perform any special maneuvers, staying on static display only, an Air Force spokesman said.

In August, spoke with 1st Lt. Brett Burnside, a  brand-new F-35 pilot graduate, who said the 34th at Hill -- one of four F-35A bases in the U.S. -- was preparing to deploy for a TSP.

"I know we have some stuff planned for the future -- theater security packages -- but I can't really speak to that," he said.

That same month, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the F-35A is ready and poised to go to the Pacific -- or any theater, for that matter -- should tensions escalate with North Korea.

"We now just passed 100,000 flying hours with the F-35, and it is doing very well. And in any contingency, if there were a problem, they're ready to go -- ready to go to combat," she told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

While the Air Force hasn't yet flown the F-35A in operational exercises, the Marine Corps this year deployed a squadron of F-35Bs to Iwakuni, Japan, which on Aug. 31 flew alongside B-1B bombers and both Japanese and South Korean F-15 fighters in a show of force to North Korea.

In April, the Air Force dispatched a handful of F-35As overseas to Europe for several weeks in the aircraft's first training deployment to the continent.

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