F-35, Rafale & Su-30MKI: China Threat Prompts Japan To Conduct ‘First Time’ Drills With New Allies, World’s Toughest Jets

After Indian Su-30 MKI fighters and French Rafales, the Italian Air Force’s F-35s undertook their first-ever joint aerial exercise with Japanese warplanes.

In China’s Backyard, F-15 Air Superiority Fighters, French Rafales Hold 1st Joint Aerial Drills 

The joint aerial exercise, which saw the arrival of four Italian Air Force F-35As in Japan, commenced on August 7 at Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture, situated along the coast of the Sea of Japan.

On August 8, a display of coordinated maneuvers took place, featuring Japan’s F-15 fighter jets alongside Italy’s F-35 fighters, accompanied by a diverse array of additional military aircraft.

In a tweet, the Italian Air Force shared an image capturing the synchronized aerial maneuver of the two air forces, affirming their participation together with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in a bilateral aerial drill. 

According to the Italian Air Force, the exercise facilitated the exchange of techniques, tactics, and operational procedures. 

The Italian contingent featured a lineup of assets, including F-35A aircraft, KC-767A tankers, C-130J transports, and G-550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) platforms.

Japan engaged in the training exercise with the deployment of four F-15s and a KC-767, showcasing their commitment to the collaborative endeavor. 

Following the training session, the Japanese Commander of the Air Defense Command, Suzuki Yasuhiko, and the Italian Commander of the Air Fleet Command, Alberto Biavati, conducted a press conference.

Suzuki highlighted that the first joint maneuvers executed by Japanese and Italian fighter jets marked the commencement of a significant collaboration. He expressed his aspiration to enhance and expand the scope of future exercise programs.

Italian Air Force joined the Japanese Air Force for a bilateral exercise in Japan, sharing techniques, tactics, and operational procedures.

Biavati conveyed that these exercises constitute a noteworthy strategic advancement in fostering cooperation between the two nations. He voiced his anticipation of returning to Japan in the future to facilitate the exchange of technologies once again.

The exercise will continue until August 10, encompassing the airspace near the ASDF’s Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture. 

In September 2022, the ASDF carried out its first fighter aircraft drills with the German Air Force, succeeded by a comparable exercise with the Indian Air Force in January 2023.

Subsequently, the ASDF also recently conducted another joint exercise with the French Air and Space Force. 

Moreover, the ASDF is poised to engage in joint training with the Royal Australian Air Force as part of a significantly larger exercise planned from August 23 to September 15. This expansive endeavor aims to enhance tactical proficiency and foster interoperability between the two air forces.

Experts contend that these endeavors reflect the ASDF’s intention to bolster its relationships with these nations, a strategic move influenced by the growing assertiveness of the Chinese military.

Earlier in 2022, Japan and India conducted their first-ever joint fighter drills involving Su-30MKI from IAF and Japanese F-15 & F-2 Fighters.

Japan had been keenly awaiting to conduct military drills with Su-30 fighters because of China, whose Air Force also operates the same fighters and a variety of other re-engineered jets of Russian origin that pose a massive threat to Tokyo’s security.

Deepening Ties Between Italy And Japan

The first-ever joint aerial exercise between Italy and Japan marks a significant milestone in the expanding partnership between their respective armed forces. 

This collaborative endeavor is part of a broader framework that has seen ASDF pilots undergo advanced training at Italy’s International Flight Training School in Decimomannu, Sardinia, under a bilateral agreement established in late 2021.

This aerial display of cooperation represents just one facet of a comprehensive effort to boost defense ties. Italy’s proactive engagement with Indo-Pacific nations aligns with Tokyo’s strategic objective of cultivating a network of allies to counterbalance the expanding military influence of China. 

This spirit of collaboration extends beyond the skies, as highlighted by the port call of the Italian warship ITS Morosini to Japan, the first in more than two decades. 

Furthermore, plans are underway for the mutual exchange of insights regarding the operation of F-35B fighters, a vital component of both nations’ defense strategies. 

Italian Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet: Aeronautica Militare

Additionally, reports suggest that Rome is contemplating the deployment of its upgraded flagship, the aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, on an extensive Indo-Pacific tour in the near future.

These concerted efforts follow the landmark decision of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni, to elevate bilateral relations to the status of a “strategic partnership.” 

This elevated status comes with a comprehensive framework for bilateral consultations, underscoring the gravity and significance of the alliance in the realms of foreign policy and defense.

Furthermore, in collaboration with Britain, Japan, and Italy are engaged in the Global Combat Air Program, an initiative established in December to develop a next-generation combat aircraft, with a targeted completion timeframe of 2035.