Japan has begun modifying the first of two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Izumo-class multi-purpose destroyers/helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers to support the operations of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)-capable Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter .
Images of the JS Izumo undergoing refit work at Japan Marine United’s (JMU’s) Isogo shipyard in Yokohama City, with its island covered by scaffolding and the foredeck-mounted Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) removed, have emerged over the past week.
The two 24,000 tonne Izumo-class vessels JS Izumo and JS Kaga, which were commissioned in 2015 and 2017 respectively, measure 248 metres long and have been built with several features that would support F-35B operations – such as the elevators, flight deck, and stowage area – although further work is required before the type can be fully qualified.
Modifications would likely include a new aircraft approach and landing system, strengthening of flight deck for the additional weight as well as heat-resistant coatings for vertical landings, and others.
It is not known whether the ships will be fitted with ski-jumps, although the US Navy’s (USN’s) Wasp-class amphibious assault vessels – which are only less than 10 metres longer – have proven to be more than adequate to deploy and recover F-35B aircraft.
The JMSDF was allocated US$28.8 million in fiscal year 2020 (FY 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. In contrast, JS Kaga is expected to be fully modified during its next scheduled overhaul in FY2022.
Japan has earmarked US$737.8 million to acquire six F-35Bs for FY2020, the first of which is expected to be delivered in FY2024. The country is expected to eventually acquire a total of 42 F-35Bs.
Unsurprisingly, China has voiced its opposition to the return of a Japanese aircraft carrier capability.
“Due to historical reasons, Japan’s moves in the field of military security have been closely followed by its neighbouring countries in Asia and the international community at large,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying in December 2017 when reports of the Izumo-class’ possible conversion first emerged.
“We urge Japan to adhere to the policy of exclusive defence, stay committed to the path of peaceful development, act cautiously in the area of military security and do more to enhance mutual trust between regional countries and promote peace and stability in the region instead of the opposite,” Hua said.
“Japanese officials have said over the years that Japan is a force for peace,” she added. “We look forward to seeing that Japan act on these words with concrete policies and actions.”
by Jr Ng