The Japan Ministry of Defense (Bōei-shō) published its 2020 Defense White Paper and in the section on the Lockheed Martin F-35B, the government has confirmed that the stealth fighter will operate from the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (Kaijō Jieitai; JMSDF) was allocated US$28.8 million in fiscal year 2020 to perform the first stage of modifications for JS Izumo during its planned overhaul. It will then return to the fleet and receive the remaining conversion work in FY2025. The Japan Ministry of Defense 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 paper says this is in response to the new security environment and to protect Japan’s air and sea approaches.
The 2020 Defense White Paper highlighted the operational flexibility of the F-35B, noting the jet’s ability to operate without the need for long runways, which would enable the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to significantly expand the number of locations from whence the service can conduct air superiority operations. The 42 F-35Bs include 18 to be contracted over the next five years, with Japan setting aside approximately $795 million in its current defense budget to acquire six. It is also converting the helicopter destroyer Izumo, which has a 245-meter flight deck and was originally designed to carry helicopters primarily for anti-submarine warfare, to operate the F-35B. 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 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A (CTOL), the short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B (STOVL), and the carrier-based F-35C (CV/CATOBAR). Similar in size to the A variant, the B sacrifices about a third of the A variant’s fuel volume to accommodate the SDLF. This variant is limited to 7 g. Unlike other variants, the F-35B has no landing hook. The “STOVL/HOOK” control instead engages conversion between normal and vertical flight.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has begun the process of converting the first of two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Izumo-class helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers capable of supporting the operations of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The Izumo class has been built with weight considerations for the F-35B in various parts, including the stowage, elevators, and flight deck. However, further modifications are needed such as reinforcing the flight deck to support additional weight, placing additional guidance lights, and fitting the ship with heat-resistant deck spots for vertical landings, among other things. The Izumo-class won’t be formally designated as aircraft carriers, instead sticking with the classes’ recent redesignation as multipurpose escort destroyers from helicopter destroyers.