US Marine Corps F-35B Conduct First Landing Aboard Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JS Izumo
US Marine Corps F-35B Conduct First Landing Aboard Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JS Izumo

Japan Acquiring Joint Precision Approach and Landing System for JS Izumo (DDH-183)

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The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is in the process of procuring a Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) for its helicopter carrier JS Izumo. The JPALS is a ship’s system, all-weather landing system based on real-time differential correction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) signal, augmented with a local area correction message, and transmitted to the user via secure means. The system would allow Japan to operate Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fighters from the ship. The onboard receiver compares the current GPS-derived position with the local correction signal, deriving a highly accurate three-dimensional position capable of being used for all-weather approaches via an Instrument Landing System-style display. The capability has supported F-35B flights on US Navy LH-class amphibious assault ships since 2016 and F-35C flights on the service’s aircraft carriers since 2021.

In 2021, United States Marine Corps F-35B fighters operated off the Izumo for the first time. The two F-35Bs from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to operate on Izumo to test modifications to the big deck warship so the short takeoff, vertical landing (STOVL) version of the F-35 can operate from the ship. In 2022, Raytheon Intelligence & Space an $8.6-million contract to deliver a joint precision approach and landing system (JPALS) to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force . Izumo completed the first of a two-stage modification in June that will enable it to operate the F-35, with the first stage adding heat resistant coating to the flight deck and marking flight lines for F-35B operations. The second stage of Izumo’s conversion and the full stage of Kaga’s conversion will involve a change of the shape of the ships’ bows, along with interior reconfiguration that will allow them to embark and fully operate F-35s.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) with new markings and heat resistance coating on the flight deck. (Photo JMSDF)

JS Izumo (DDH-183) is a helicopter carrier which, as of 2022, is being converted into a light aircraft carrier. Officially classified as a multi-purpose operation destroyer, she is the lead ship in the Izumo class of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). She is the second warship to be named for Izumo Province, with the previous ship being the armored cruiser Izumo (1898). The ship is as large as a Japanese carrier of Second World War-era. Izumo is called a destroyer because the Japanese constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons, but the vessel allows Japan to project military power well beyond its territorial waters. The official classification of these ships is DDH (helicopter-carrying destroyer), which is accepted by the United States Naval Institute; in contrast, Jane’s Fighting Ships describes this official classification, but the classification is simply “helicopter carrier”.

The ship is equipped with two Phalanx CIWS and two SeaRAM for her defense. The ship can carry up to 28 aircraft, or 14 larger aircraft. Only seven ASW helicopters and two SAR helicopters are planned for the initial aircraft complement. For other operations, 400 troops and 50 3.5-ton trucks (or equivalent equipment) can also be carried. The flight deck has five helicopter landing spots that allow simultaneous landings and take-offs. The ship has neither a “ski-jump” nor a catapult, typical features for launching fixed-wing aircraft. If Izumo-class ships were to operate fixed-wing aircraft, they would be limited to STOVL (short take-off, vertical landing) aircraft. Japan has purchased the conventional version of the Lightning II (the F-35A) but may buy the STOVL version (the F-35B) which could be operated from a modified Izumo-class ship.