December 17, 2014 / 2:58 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. chooses Japan to maintain F-35 jets in Asia: sources

An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in this March 6, 2012 file photo.U.S. Air Force photo/Randy Gon/Handout

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (Reuters) - The Pentagon has chosen Japan as the Asian site for heavy maintenance of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets once the new warplanes start operating around the world, sources familiar with the program said on Wednesday.

Nikkei, citing sources, reported earlier that the U.S. Defense Department had told Japan's Defense Ministry that it had decided to set up a maintenance hub there and would announce the move soon.

It was not immediately clear where the Pentagon would carry out heavy maintenance of the F135 engine that powers the fighter planes. The engine is made by United Technologies Corp's Pratt & Whitney unit.

According to Nikkei, sources said U.S. officials chose Japan for the maintenance hub because U.S. military personnel stationed there could run the center and because of the country's extensive technology industry.

Japan is also finishing work on a large final assembly and checkout plant for the new warplanes at a cost of more than $1 billion.

The Pentagon last week announced that Italy and Turkey would take care of initial heavy maintenance of the F-35 airframe and engine, beginning in 2018.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Timothy Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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