The F-35 has come at the time of the strategic shift for the liberal democracies from dealing primarily with the land wars to preparing for crisis management with peer competitors.
We referred a decade ago to the coming of the F-35 as the renorming of airpower which was a clear indication from our point of view that it is not a replacement aircraft but a key catalyst for reshaping air combat operations, indeed combat operations.
We also paired this with what we called the three dimensional warriors and referred specifically to the dynamics of change we saw coming more than a decade ago as the Marines would add the F-35B to their force mix.
The arrival of the F-35 and the standup of the aircraft on a global basis is clearly underway.
The challenge now will not simply be for national forces to leverage what the aircraft can bring for the transformation of their own forces, but for the emergence of the F-35 as a global fleet to be supported by a global logistics system.
The F-35 is a 21stcentury weapon system with a core sustainability approach built in with an inherent strategic capability to reshape US and allied air combat operations.
The challenge is to find ways to leverage the inherent advantages of a global system, which the F-35 as an air system provides.
But culture change in the approaches being taken by the services and nations is crucial in order to draw full advantage of the emergence of a globally operating aircraft, with inherent commonality built in.
For example, both Australia and Japan are going to be key players in the Asian support system for the F-35.
How will these centers be set up not just to support their national fleet but for those of their allies?
How will the United States shape an approach for sustained engagement where US F-35s can fly to the crisis and be maintained by the Japanese and Australians or other F-35 partners in the region?
The recent decision by Japan to become the largest operator after the Untied States of F-35s opens the aperature for change in the sustainment approach for a global fleet.
Indeed, the Japanese have recognized the opportunity and are closing down their local assembly facility in favor of ramping up their MRO capabilities for the aircraft, clearly with an eye on regional support and collaboration with Australia and the United States.
The local assembly of the F-35 has reportedly added a premium of more than 30% to the cost of each aircraft. The Japanese have announced that instead they will focus on providing maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) services for the aircraft.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI’s) Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works in Aichi will provide MRO&U for the F-35 airframe, while the IHI Corporation’s Mizuho plant in Tokyo will provide MRO&U support for the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine.
Our sources in Japan have indicated that while the primary focus will be upon support for Japanese F-35s, there is a clear interest in broadening that to support for US and allied aircraft as well.
This is a strategic opportunity for the F-35 global enterprise. In later pieces, we will address the challenges to doing so as well as the opportunities.
For two articles which address the Japanese decision, see the following:
The featured photo shows a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-35A flies flying overhead at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Nov. 2, 2017.
This is the first Japanese-built F-35A, which was assembled at the Final Assembly and Check Out facility at Komaki-Minami Factory of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry.
Credit photo: USAF