Modification work turning Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Kaga into an F-35B aircraft carrier are nearing completion at a dock in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, located in the western part of Japan’s Honshu Island.
Kaga, the second ship of the Izumo-class DDH, has been primarily designed to carry SH-60 helicopters and to operate as a core ship in anti-submarine warfare. In 2018, however, the Japanese government decided to modify the Izumo-class DDH to allow it to operate F-35B fighter jets. The main purpose of this is to strengthen air defense capabilities, especially in the Pacific region, and to complement the U.S. Navy’s LHA/LHD operations with the F-35B.
The modifications are also set to strengthen Japan’s presence in the Indo-Pacific during the JMSDF’s Indo-Pacific deployments, or long-term deployments for Izumo-class DDHs and other destroyers in the Indo-Pacific region that have been conducted for the past several years.
The modification of the Izumo-class will mainly involve changing the shape of the bow section from the current trapezoidal shape to a square and applying a heat-resistant coating to the flight deck.
The first ship, Izumo, already completed its first modification in 2021 and performed landing and takeoff tests with the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B. The modification of Izumo is divided into two phases. In the first phase, the flight deck was coated with a heat-resistant coating, and in the second phase, the shape of the bow section will be modified. The second phase of modification is scheduled to begin in March 2025, with work to be completed by early 2027.
The modification of the second ship, Kaga, is currently in the first phase of work, which includes applying the heat-resistant coatings and changing the shape of the bow section. This work is expected to be completed by March 2023, with the subsequent second phase of modification taking place between Fiscal Year 2026 and FY 2027. The hull will also get re-balanced and structurally reinforced to accommodate the increased weight of the fighters. The modifications are expected to be completed by March 2024, with the second phase of modifications to take place between FY 2026 and FY 2027.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force will operate the F-35Bs that will go aboard the Izumo class. First, six aircraft will deploy in FY 2024 and two in FY 2025 for a final total of 42 aircraft.
According to photos provided to Naval News by a local spotter, Kaga has already completed work to reshape the bow section and is in the process of applying a heat-resistant coating to the flight deck. The heat-resistant coating is applied to the aft side of the flight deck to withstand the exhaust heat generated when the F-35B makes a vertical landing. On Dec. 27, JMSDF’s Escort Flotilla 4 posted on Twitter the first frontal view of the Kaga since reshaping the bow section.