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Australia's first F-35A strike fighter makes its inaugural flight on Sept. 29, 2014, from manufacturer Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, facility. Lockheed Martin photo.

Australia and Japan will both do heavy airframe maintenance on Pacific-based F-35s, as well as heavy engine maintenance, the System Program Office announced Wednesday. The two countries were designated with regional maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade status because they have the capacity and technical capability, the SPO said in a statement. “Regional considerations such as forward basing, aircraft phasing, and transportation also contributed to initial assignment decisions,” the program office said. Both countries are to be ready for heavy airframe work not later than 2018. Australia is to be ready for heavy engine work that same year, with Japan following “at least three to five years later.” Each country will work with its own industry to perform F-35 work “over and above their own F-35 needs.” Just as with the European regional designations made last week—Italy and Britain for airframes and Turkey, Norway, and Netherlands for engines—these assignments “do not preclude the opportunity for other F-35 partners and FMS (foreign military sales) customers … to participate” and get future sustainment and component work, especially as the worldwide F-35 fleet expands, the SPO also said. The only other confirmed F-35 buyer in the Pacific so far is South Korea, although Singapore is a second-tier partner and is expected to buy some aircraft.