The US is set to deploy over a dozen F-35 Lightning II warplanes in Japan next year, a move that is likely to anger China and intensify tensions in East Asia.
The US Forces Japan confirmed the deployment in a tweet on Friday, adding that the state-of-the-art fighter jets will be stationed at a Marine Corps base in the Japanese city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
“The future of US Marine Corps aviation, the F-35 Lightning II set to hit MCAS Iwakuni in 2017,” the force said.
The Pentagon did not immediately disclose the exact number of the aircraft to be deployed, but the Japanese media put the figure at 16.
“US officially notifies Japan of deployment of 16 F-35 fighters,” Japan’s Kyodo news agency noted.
The Japanese central government had in August informed Iwakuni officials that the jets would be deployed in the first half of 2017.
According to Japan Times, 10 Lightings were scheduled to be deployed in January, while six more would arrive in August.
The daily noted that the deployment was part of the Marine Corps’ plan to replace its aging F/A-18 and AV-8 Harrier jets with the F-35B, a variant of the fifth-generation jet which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings.
This is while the F-35 project, which was launched in 2001, has missed several deadlines due to many software bugs and dissatisfactory performances. The $379 billion jet, which is referred to as the world’s most expensive weapon, has blown out its budget by nearly 70 percent.
The aircraft’s deployment is expected to draw ire from China, which has already scuffed at Japan for challenging its regional influence.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea in the face of rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Japan has been boosting its military ties with countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam that have overlapping claims in the disputed waters.
Moreover, Tokyo has a separate territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
Earlier this month, the UK also sent four Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to Japan to partake in their first-ever joint exercise with the Japanese air self-defense force.