USNI News reported that in November, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters will operate off a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Izumo-class multi-purpose destroyer (helicopter carrier), Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said on Wednesday. The Marine F-35Bs will embark aircraft carrier in an exchange that could lead to a similar program in which a U.S. Marine Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) squadron embarked aboard U.K. Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) this year.
The Japanese government approached the Marines in 2019 to consider the exchange of aircraft in parallel to the retrofit that would allow JMSDF JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184) to embark F-35Bs. The possibility of operating fixed wing aircraft was incorporated into the design of the ships from the earliest stages of the Izumo program, but this was not made public because Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution prohibits Japan from possessing offensive military weapons such as aircraft carriers. The expansion of Japan’s F-35 capability comes as the Chinese have expanded their own naval capability to improve the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s amphibious capability.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has ordered 42 STOVL F-35Bs in 2019 and will operate them from land bases once delivered. In July 2021 it was indicated that of the 42 F-35B variants to be acquired, 18 will be introduced by FY2023, six in FY2024 and two in FY2025. These are to form a single squadron consisting of about 20 aircraft operating from the Nyutabaru Air Base in Miyazaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan. The base is located in close proximity to the JMSDF’s Kure Base in Hiroshima Prefecture, which is the home port of JS Kaga. It was estimated that each Izumo-class carrier could operate 12 or more F-35B aircraft.
In 2020, Izumo began the conversion process. The aircraft elevators and the deck paint were designed to handle aircraft like the F-35B, and it would be possible to add a ski-jump to the flight deck for STOVL operations.Initial modifications include strengthening the heat resistance of the deck and installing power supply equipment to enable the departure and arrival of the F-35B. A second renovation, to change the bow shape to a quadrangle for the safe operation of the F-35B and the maintenance of the interior compartments, is scheduled to be carried out starting from the end of 2024.