ROME — As Italy gets down to work with Japan on the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) with the aim of building a new sixth-generation fighter by 2035, it has boosted defense ties with Tokyo by dispatching F-35s for a first-ever training exercise in Japan.
Four Italian Air Force F-35As arrived at Komatsu air base in Japan on Friday ahead the exercise, which launched on Monday, after flying from Italy with stops in Qatar, the Maldives and Singapore, where the aircraft were held up for two days by a typhoon.
The F-35s were joined by three Italian KC-767A tanker-transport aircraft, a G-550 early warning jet and two C-130J aircraft in sea search-and-rescue configuration.
Japan is using four F-15s and a KC-767 in the joint training exercise.
The get-together follows a meeting held in Japan in March between the defense ministers of Japan, Italy and the U.K. to confirm the three nations’ partnership on GCAP, an evolution of the U.K.-led Tempest program.
The training exercise with Japan is the latest air force tie-up between Rome and Tokyo. Japanese pilots have been training since 2021 at Italy’s flight training school, which is now based at Decimomannu on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Italy and Japan have both opened final assembly and checkout lines for F-35s they are ordering.
In November 2022, Japanese KC-767 pilots and technicians visited Italy to meet Italian air force counterparts to discuss flying the tanker.
Speaking at the GCAP meeting in Japan in March, Italian defense minister Guido Crosetto said, “Once, the Indo-Pacific area and the Mediterranean were considered far from each other. Today, however, the world has got smaller, crises are growing and the situation will probably worsen this decade.”
He added, “The future of the Mediterranean will depend on what happens in the Indo-Pacific area and vice versa. That is why our nations must work together.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 8 to change the number of Italian F-35s involved in the exercise from three to four, per information from the Italian Air Force.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.