WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The United States is laying the groundwork for the first overseas deployment of the F-35 stealth fighter in Japan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
The deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni in Japan by 2017 will be part of the new policy of enhancing U.S. presence and capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, Panetta said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.
Explaining the new U.S. defense strategy as its wars wind down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Panetta said the effort will be to maintain force projection in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region.
The enhancement of presence and capabilities in Asia-Pacific includes "reallocating the naval fleet to achieve in these next few years a 60/40 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans -- hopefully, we will do that by 2020 -- increasing Army and Marine presence in the region after Iraq and Afghanistan, locating our most advanced aircraft in the Pacific, including new deployments of F-22s and the MV-22 Ospreys to Japan, and laying the groundwork for the first overseas deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Iwakuni in 2017," Panetta said.
U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed Martin, which leads a group of companies involved in the F-35 program, described it as a fifth-generation fighter with radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed and extreme agility characteristics, and featuring the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package.
Panetta said the United States also has concluded major agreements with Japan to realign U.S. forces and jointly develop Guam as a strategic hub.
"We've worked to strengthen cooperation with (South Korea) in space, in cyberspace, in intelligence. And we began a new Marine rotational deployment to Australia, as well as increased Air Force cooperation," he said. "Likewise, we are deepening our engagement and developing rotational deployments with allies and partners such as Singapore and the Philippines and expanding our mil-to-mil dialogue and exchanges with China."