Will Japan Deploy New F-35 Fighter Jets on Aircraft Carriers?

The Ministry of Defense of Japan is considering the possibility of acquiring fifth-generation F-35 Fighter Jets (Variant B) for placement on Izumo-type Aircraft Carriers (Helicopter Carriers). Acquiring F-35 Fighter Jets (B) and using them on Helicopter or Aircraft Carriers could modify Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and compete with countries in the region which are already having full-fledged aircraft carriers.

The Power of Aircraft Carriers

By the end of 2017, aircraft carriers were owned by only ten countries: the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, India, Spain, Brazil, Italy, and Thailand. However, not all of these nations can boast of developing own aircraft carriers. For example, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (was earlier Soviet Varyag), the Indian Vikramaditya (was heavily modernized from Admiral Gorshkov), the Thai Chakri Naruebet (designed by the Spanish company Bazan) and the Brazilian São Paulo (was earlier French “Foch”).

The United States has the largest number of aircraft carriers (11 carriers), while China and Italy have two operational aircraft carriers. The rest of the countries have one aircraft carrier each. It is also known that the United Kingdom and India will soon operationalize one more aircraft carrier into their respective navies.

“Hyuga” and “Izumo” Carriers

The Marine Self-Defense Forces of Japan do not have aircraft carriers, but there are four helicopter carriers. More precisely they are helicopter carriers of the “Hyuga” and “Izumo” class. Japan later launched “Hyuga” and “Ise” in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Later more modern carriers (“Izumo”) was launched which are distinguished by a smaller displacement and greater engine power.  Up to 28 aircraft can be accommodated on the Izumo-type helicopter carrier while only 18 can be accommodated on the Hyuga.

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At present, none of these helicopter carriers are suitable for placing F-35 Fighter Jets. However, according to the Japanese media, after the strengthening of the deck with the use of heat-resistant materials capable of withstanding heating from the engines of aircraft with a vertical landing, and mounting a ramp for take-off from the deck, the larger Izumo will be able to function as aircraft carriers.

F-35 Fighter Jets (B Variant)

The American F-35 Fighter Jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin until recently remained the only fifth-generation fighter-bomber in the world. US confirmed preliminary talks with UAE on the sale of F-35 fighters jets. The most expensive modification of this fighter-bomber is the F-35B. It is intended primarily for the needs of the Navy and is characterized by the possibility of a short takeoff and vertical landing, which is of great importance for Tokyo, given the small size of Izumo.

The F-35A fighter aircraft are already in service with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Five years ago, Tokyo ordered 42 such fighter-bombers for $ 10 billion. Only four of them were assembled in the United States. The remaining 38 were collected under license from Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

New Japanese Strategy

In recent years, regional media often wrote about the revival of the “spirit of militarism” in Japan. In 2017, at least three times, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual gift to the Shinto shrine of Yasukuni in Tokyo, which keeps lists of the names of all Japanese who died on the battlefields since the mid-19th century. Any mention of the temple is perceived in China and South Korea as an excuse for Japanese aggression in World War II.

Prime Minister of Japan sent an offering to the temple of Yasukuni, considered in Asia a symbol of militarism. In addition, last week in Tokyo, approved the budget for the 2018 financial year, assuming a record defense spending ($ 45.7 billion).

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The emergence of an aircraft carrier in the arsenal of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and fifth-generation F-35 fighter-bombers with the possibility of vertical landing will clearly not be positively perceived by neighbors in the region, mainly by China and North Korea. A special reason for discontent will appear in Beijing. According to the newspaper The Japan Times, F-35 B can be placed on the westernmost island of Japan – Yonaguni. And he, in turn, is only 150 km from Tokyo-controlled but disputed by the Beijing Senkaku (Diaoyu Islands) islands.