Japanese F-35As mark first overseas deployment for Australian exercise

Four F-35A Lightning IIs from the 3rd Air Wing departed Misawa Air Base (AB) – the unit’s home base – for Australia on August 25 to participate in the two-week Exercise Bushido Guardian 2023, marking the first overseas deployment for the type in operational Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) service.

The deployment saw the aircraft (including 09-8717 and 29-8733) transit via Andersen AFB, Guam, to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory. The four F-35As were supported by a KC-767J tanker and a C-130H Hercules tactical airlifter from the JASDF’s 1st Tactical Airlift Group at Nagoya AB, along with two Kawasaki C-2 strategic transports, one each from the 2nd and 3rd Tactical Airlift Group at Iruma AB and Miho AB, respectively.

A JASDF F-35A (29-8733) touches down at RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory on August 26.
A JASDF F-35A (29-8733) touches down at RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory on August 26. Australian Department of Defence/Leading Aircraftwoman Taylor Anderson

This was the first time that Japan had sent its F-35As for training overseas, with the deployment taking place on the back of a similar flight that was undertaken by five Mitsubishi F-2A/B fighters to participate in the RAAF-hosted Exercise Pitch Black – a multinational air combat training event that was held in Australia’s Northern Territory – in 2022.

The primary aim of this deployment – which ran from August 21 to September 2 – was to conduct long-range navigation and air-to-air refuelling training, but also to enhance the JASDF’s deployment capabilities with a view to conducting rotational deployments to Australia and for other joint exercises overseas in the future. A reciprocal element of RAAF F-35As and a single KC-30A (A330-203MRTT) tanker-transport deployed to Japan, where they were greeted by a special-schemed F-15J (82-8897).