Japan flew two F-35s and flew 55 people to Australia for the country’s first foreign incursion by its Joint Strike Fighters.

The Japanese Air Force team arrived at the RAAF base Tindal on Australia’s north coast on Saturday and will stay until Tuesday after making the 6,400-kilometre (4,000-mile) journey to Australia’s “top end”. Postwar Japan had never before engaged in expeditionary air operations except with the United States. Japanese pilots traditionally operated to and from Japan.

“My take on this is that it reinforces the closer ties between the ADF (Australian Defense Forces) and the Japanese self-defense forces, with the opportunity for a common capability (ie the F-35A) as a means of strengthening the relationship.” Defense cooperation. Malcolm Davis, a defense expert at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, said in an email. “That’s the key message here: Tokyo and Canberra have common concerns, i.e., ‘China,’ and both are working together to train and collaborate on deterrence strategies.”

Davis also stressed the importance of expeditionary air operations. “He also helps the JASDF to train for expeditionary air deployments and the RAAF to work with foreign allied air forces using common platforms, but also to experience how the JASDF could support the F-35A in its own way.”

In an August 14 statement, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force had said the Japanese contingent would be larger, including four F-35As, a KC-767, a C-130 and a C-2, numbering approximately 160 personnel. What changed between the Australian press statements released today and the JASDF statement is unclear.

In a rare public comment in the press release, the civilian head of the Australian Department of Defense called the Japanese visit “an important milestone in the relationship between our two countries, and is the first activity to be carried out under the Agreement of Reciprocal Access”.

Greg Moriarty referred to an agreement that did not take effect until August 12. The two governments signed it in January of last year, and the arrival of the F-35 was its first manifestation. The fact that both countries moved so quickly towards a new agreement indicates how committed the two sides are to closer burgeoning military and diplomatic relations.

In just a few weeks, Australia, Moriarty said, “will reciprocate this visit by deploying six RAAF F-35As to Japan for exercise Bushido Guardian 2023.”

Moriarty and the Royal Australian Air Force head, Air Marshal Rob Chipman, noted the deal’s importance in securing the Indo-Pacific. The air chief was even more specific: “Developing our mutual understanding, especially in how each of us operates the F-35A, is essential to how Australia and Japan contribute to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific.”

This latest move comes in the wake of the Camp David meetings between the leaders of Japan, South Korea and the United States, which the United States hopes will result in what President Joe Biden called “a new era and partnership between Japan and the Republic of Korea”. and the United States”. China has criticized Australia’s agreement with Japan and the Camp David meetings, saying they amount to the creation of NATO in the Pacific, which the People’s Republic says would be a bad thing.

Could Japan and South Korea go one step closer to watching Japanese F-35s fly to their former colony?

“I doubt it: they have just signed a cooperation agreement with the United States, but it will be slow. It’s a logical outcome, but both Tokyo and Seoul will be cautious in that regard,” ASPI’s Davis said. “However, Australia also looks to accelerate the growth of ties with Seoul, as it does with Tokyo.”