Japan To Collaborate With Italian Navy On F-35B Operations That Could Soon Be Deployed On JMSDF’s Warships

On July 4, Admiral Ryō Sakai, the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), announced during a press conference that the JMSDF plans to share information with the Italian Navy about the F-35B operations.

The information exchange between the JMSDF and the Italian Navy will primarily center around the procedures and techniques for operating the Lockheed Martin F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing fighter from the JMSDF’s Izumo-class helicopter destroyers. 

These destroyers are currently undergoing modifications to accommodate the F-35B aircraft. As per the reports, there is a possibility that Italian F-35Bs could be operated from the Izumo-class ships of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Should the Italian F-35s arrive and take off from the Izumo-class destroyer, it would mark the first instance of non-US forces conducting such operations. 

In June, Adm. Enrico Credendino, the head of the Italian Navy, visited Japan. Coinciding with his visit, the Thaon di Revel-class patrol vessel, ITS Francesco Morosini, arrived in Japan for a scheduled port call on June 22.

Izumo Class Warship of Japanese Military

This visit was part of the ship’s five-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. The Thaon di Revel-class patrol ship, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, became the first Italian Navy vessel to anchor at a Japanese port in 27 years.

Furthermore, on July 4, 2023, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced a bilateral exercise between the Japanese Towada-class replenishment ship JS Hamana and the Italian Navy offshore patrol vessel (OPV) ITS Francesco Morosini. 

The exercise occurred in the East China Sea and aimed to enhance cooperation between the two navies. This exercise further strengthened the ties and collaboration between the Japanese and Italian navies.

Earlier this year, several reports also emerged indicating that the Italian aircraft carrier Cavour is planning to undertake a tour in the Indo-Pacific region, expected to occur between late 2023 and early 2024.

However, during the press conference, Admiral Sakai clarified that the deployment of the Italian aircraft carrier has not been confirmed or finalized at this point.

Why Is Japan Converting Its Izumo-Class Warships Into F-35B Aircraft Carriers?

Tokyo’s decision to modify its Izumo-class vessels is driven by its long-term commitment to incorporating the F-35B into its naval capabilities. 

According to Lockheed Martin, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) plans to acquire a total of 147 F-35 aircraft. This includes 105 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and a potential allocation of up to 42 F-35B models.

But Tokyo has yet to take delivery of the F-35B aircraft from Lockheed Martin. In 2018, the Japanese government decided to modify its two Izumo-class carriers to enable them to operate the F-35B stealth aircraft. 

Currently, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is refurbishing its two largest warships, namely the JS Izumo and JS Kaga, both of which are helicopter destroyers belonging to the Izumo-class.

The modification work for JS Izumo and JS Kaga is divided into two phases. The first phase of modifications for the JS Izumo, the lead ship of the Izumo class, was completed in 2021. 

A US Marine Corps F-35B performs a vertical landing on the Japanese ship Izumo on October 5, 2021.

These initial modifications included the addition of a heat-resistant flight deck capable of withstanding the exhaust of the F-35B aircraft, as well as changes to the lighting and deck markings. 

The second phase of modifications is scheduled to commence in March 2025, during which the Izumo will be reconfigured with a squared-off flight deck similar to that of the JS Kaga. The modifications on the JS Izumo are expected to be finalized by 2027.

In late 2021, the JS Izumo conducted proof of concept tests with US Marine Corps F-35B jets. During these trials, the F-35Bs performed very short take-offs due to the Izumo’s unmodified flight deck at that time. 

These tests aimed to assess the feasibility and operational aspects of F-35B operations on the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer.

These modifications aim to enable the seamless operation of the F-35B aircraft within the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and potentially enhance interoperability with Japan’s allies who are also operating F-35B aircraft.

Thus, the exchange of information and knowledge regarding the operations of the F-35B between Japan and the Italian Navy will be invaluable to Tokyo. 

This collaborative effort will assist Japan in acquiring the necessary expertise and know-how to successfully operate its future F-35B aircraft launched from the Izumo-class carriers.