In its 2020 Defence White Paper, the government of Japan has confirmed that the F-35B will operate from the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer.
The white paper ‘Defence of Japan 2020‘ says that this is in response to the new security environment and to “protect Japan’s air and sea approaches”.
The section states “Partial refurbishment of Destroyer JS “Izumo” for takeoff and landing by F-35B”. The 248-metre long Izumo, Japan’s largest warship equipped with a flat flight deck, was designed with an eye to hosting F-35B fighters. For example, the elevator connecting the deck with the hangar can carry the aircraft.
While this has been known to be the intention for some time, this makes it official.
Japan previously announced plans to convert JS Izumo and her sister Kaga, of the Izumo ‘helicopter destroyer’ class, into light aircraft carriers capable of operating F-35B jets.
The country also recently increased its order of F-35s, including 42 F-35Bs, making the country the second largest operator behind the United States, a spot previously held by the United Kingdom.
The earlier National Defense Program Guidelines, which set out the aims and capability targets over a period of about 10 years for Japanese forces, stated that the government will “enable fighter jets to be operated from existing warships, if necessary, to improve the flexibility of their operation”. This has now been made official.
It was also reported recently that JS Izumo is to be redesignated as a multi-purpose escort destroyer to comply with Japan’s pacifist constitution that limits JSDF capabilities to self-defense.
“The Izumo was originally designed as a multipurpose escort ship, so it wouldn’t pose any threat to other countries if fighter jets are deployed on it,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya was quoted as saying by The Japan Times on December the 11th.
According to the outlet Asahi, US jets would likely be the first to use the Izumo for landings and take-offs.:
“The government has also approved a plan to purchase U.S.-made F-35B fighter jets which have short take-off and vertical landing capabilities. The F-35B jets will be mainly used on the Izumo and Kaga, but the aircraft will not be deployed until after fiscal 2024. That leaves open the possibility of at least a three-year period when the Izumo would be capable of being used as an aircraft carrier, but with the Air SDF having no such aircraft in its arsenal.
According to several government sources, when Gen. Robert Neller, who was then commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, visited Japan in March, Defense Ministry officials briefed him on the plans to retrofit the Izumo and said U.S. military F-35B jets would likely be the first to use the Izumo after it became a flattop. They asked for U.S. cooperation and advice in the operation of the F-35B jets. The U.S. jets would likely use the Izumo during joint training exercises with the SDF as well as when U.S. jets faced an emergency situation requiring immediate landing.”
Minister Iwaya also reiterated that the warship would not be an “attack aircraft carrier” capable of offensive military operations, although it’s hard to see how that distinction can be made.
As we reported recently, before this news, conversion of the existing Izumo class helicopter carriers was rumoured as an option for the F-35Bs Japan wants to purchase.