Japanese media have reported that helicopter carrier JS Izumo, the lead ship of the Izumo class, will be converted into an aircraft carrier capable of operating F-35B jets.
This news came to light after Japan’s new draft defence plan was published on December the 11th.
Japan also recently increased its order of F-35s, making the country the second largest operator behind the United States, a spot previously held by the United Kingdom.
According to Aaron Mehta at DefenseNews here:
“Tokyo previously planned to procure 42 F-35A models. However, a source close to the program confirmed that Japan will be adding 63 F-35A models, as well as 42 F-35B models, for a total of 147 F-35 fighters.”
The National Defense Program Guidelines, which set out the aims and capability targets over a period of about 10 years for Japanese forces, state that the government will “enable fighter jets to be operated from existing warships, if necessary, to improve the flexibility of their operation”, say local media.
It was also reported 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.
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 March 20th confirmation, conversion of the existing Izumo class helicopter carriers was rumoured as an option for the F-35Bs Japan wants to purchase.
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. Its elevator connecting the deck with the hangar can carry the aircraft.