Asia-Pacific defense axis and US agree to joint F-35 exercises

In a recent trilateral meeting, Australia, Japan, and the United States decided to deploy their Lockheed F-35 stealth combatants in joint exercises beginning in 2025. This decision was made by Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles, Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru, and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, after hours of deliberation. 

Asia-Pacific defense axis and US agree to joint F-35 exercises
Photo credit: RAAF

As per a communique from the US Defense Department, the ministers acknowledged the crucial role their trilateral partnership plays in maintaining regional stability. In showing their commitment to enhancing trilateral defense cooperation, they selected Cope North 2025 [US], Bushido North 2025 [Japan], and Pitch Black 2026 [Australia] as the principal exercises for the expanded deployment of the F-35. As a reminder from BulgarianMilitary.com, all three nations possess a sizable inventory of F-35 fighter jets, available in various models. 

During this high-level meeting, regional security issues, which directly influenced the choice of exercises, were a significant part of the discussions. Key topics consisted of North Korea’s progressing nuclear and missile technology, along with the burgeoning cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

Praise and suggestions

During a high-level meeting, representatives commended the strides Japan has made in developing counter-strike capabilities, as well as Australia’s investments in long-range strike machinery. Marles, Minoru, and Austin III also pledged that Australia and Japan would closely collaborate with the United States as these important capabilities are introduced. 

With deep respect for Japan’s prowess and the breadth of its defense relationships with the three nations of the AUKUS alliance [US, UK, and Australia], the ministers clarified their vision for collaboration with Japan revolves around advanced capability initiatives under AUKUS Pillar II. 

All three nations are enthusiastic users of the F-35 fighter jets, manufactured and supplied by Lockheed Martin. According to BulgarianMilitary.com, only the US Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] have reached full operational capability [FOC] with their F-35 fleets. The RAAF continues to engage in targeted exercises and extensive training with its stealth fleet. In a pivotal moment in October, the Royal Australian Air Force successfully tested a temporary structure designed to camouflage and protect aircraft from explosives and surveillance at their Williamtown base.

Japanese F-35's device avoids the engine resonant vibrations
Photo credit: Getty Images

What should we expect?

The Australia-Japan-US joint exercises are designed to enhance interoperability, improve tactical skills, and test the capabilities of the aircraft in a variety of scenarios. 

Firstly, they train in air-to-air combat, which involves dogfighting drills and beyond-visual-range engagements. This helps pilots understand the strengths and weaknesses of their aircraft about potential adversaries. Secondly, they participate in air-to-ground missions. These involve simulated attacks on ground targets, which can range from static installations to moving vehicles. This helps hone the pilots’ precision strike capabilities. 

Thirdly, they engage in electronic warfare exercises. These involve using the F-35’s advanced avionics to detect, jam, and deceive enemy radar and communication systems. Lastly, they also practice stealth operations. The F-35 is a stealth aircraft, which means it is designed to evade detection by radar. During these exercises, pilots learn how to maximize the stealth capabilities of their aircraft, making them harder to detect and target.

F-35s of the Asia-Pacific defense axis

The most recent figures suggest that Australia currently possesses 63 F-35As, but originally intended to acquire a total of 72. These advanced combat aircraft form a cornerstone of the Royal Australian Air Force’s initiative to maintain a defense force that is in line with emerging technologies. 

When it comes to Japan, the nation originally planned to acquire 42 F-35A models. However, in 2018, there was a turn of events when Japan’s Ministry of Defense made an additional order for 105 F-35s, made up of 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs. This move was driven by the pressing need to replace aging aircraft and enhance defensive capabilities. 

UK boasted: 'This is an F-35B, fully loaded, maximum effort'
Photo credit: Twitter

Subsequently, this places Japan as the leading international consumer of the F-35 program, with an impressive total of 147 aircraft. This includes both Conventional Takeoff and Landing [CTOL] F-35A models and F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing [STOVL] models. However, it’s worth noting that currently, Japan is operating only 36 fighter planes, with the remaining ones being in the production phase and scheduled for delivery by the end of the decade.

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