KUALA LUMPUR – Two Marine Corps F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters took off and landed on Japan’s largest warship, JS Izumo (DDH-183), on Oct.3, marking the first time that fixed-wing aircraft have operated off a Japanese warship since World War II.
The two F-35Bs from the “Bats” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242 flew 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.
“This verification is the first time for an F-35B fighter to land on a [Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force] vessel, and Japan is working to improve its capabilities in the maritime and air domains by steadily upgrading the Izumo-class destroyer in order to acquire the ability to operate STOVL aircraft,” reads a Tuesday statement from the JMSDF.
“We not only collected various verification data but also conducted various training and education necessary for the operation of F-35B fighter on naval vessels, improved interoperability between Japan and the U.S.”
The JMSDF also released a two-minute video showing the F-35s launching from Izumo and recovering via a vertical landing on the ship.
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. Izumo’s final conversion work will take place in Fiscal Year 2025, while sister ship JS Kaga (DDH-184) will receive the full modifications in FY 2022. 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.
The modification of Izumo and Kaga are paired with a planned JSDF buy of 42 F-35Bs to operate from the two ships. The first of the JSDF F-35Bs are set to arrive in FY 2023 and Marine F-35s are expected to continue operating off the two ships as Japan acclimates itself to using the fighters. The JMSDF has already conducted a series of engagements and exchanges in relation to F-35B operations with the U.K. Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) while it was in Japan in early September.
The Japanese Ministry of Defence in the past had downplayed the future operations of F-35s from Izumo and Kaga, saying the fighters would deploy on the ships when necessary due to the sensitivities over whether the capability would push Japan over the boundaries of its constitutional limitations on possessing offensive capabilities. Operation of Japanese F-35Bs would also mark the first time since World War II that Japan would operate its own fighter aircraft off its naval vessels. Kaga is the namesake of a prominent WWII aircraft carrier.
Retired JMSDF senior officers have been quoted in the Japanese press in the past as stating the threat posed by China’s increasing military capabilities necessitated a move to have fleet air defense aircraft. Given the limitations of the Izumo-class, there have been calls to develop a new domestic carrier-class. However, there are lingering questions about whether developing a new carrier class would align with Japan’s pacifist stance.
Meanwhile, Kaga and destroyer JS Murasame (DD101), which are deployed as part of the JMSDF Indo-Pacific Deployment 2021 (IPD21) task group, conducted a training exercise on Monday with the Sri Lanka Navy’s patrol vessel SLNS Sagara (P-622) in the waters around Colombo after the two ships concluded a port call in the city that began last week.