Ready To Operate F-35B Stealth Fighters, Japan’s Makeshift Aircraft Carrier ‘Kaga’ Gets Ready To Roar

Long after Japan announced its plans to convert its Izumo-class helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers, the second vessel, JS Kaga, has been put to sea trials as per photos published on social media.

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The Escort Flotilla Four of Japan Marine United (JMU) has released new photos to the social networking platform X, formerly Twitter. The images show JS Kaga leaving its dock at the shipyard in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, to conduct sea testing. j

The Escort Flotilla wrote rather enthusiastically in Japanese, “Today’s post is about JS Kaga during sea trials. There is only a little time left until the special modification of JS Kaga is completed! We can’t wait!” Escort Division Four of Escort Flotilla Four of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF) is based at the Kure Naval Base, which also serves as Kaga’s homeport.

Although the service or the Escort Flotilla stopped short of specifying when the maiden trials officially began, some insider sources told the publication that the JMSDF formally held its first set of sea trials on November 13. EurAsian Times could not independently corroborate these claims.

In April this year, reports indicated the vessel had left its dock. This was followed by images that surfaced online showing the heavily modified bow of Japan’s Izumo class JS Kaga (DDH-184) ‘helicopter-carrying destroyer’ modified into an aircraft carrier.

The sea trials of the supposed carrier come in the wake of Japan’s acquisition of US-made F-35B Lightning II fighter jets. Already emerging as the second largest operator of F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets outside of the United States, Japan intends to acquire 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs eventually. Deliveries of F-35As are presently underway, and the nation will get its first F-35B in 2025. 

Kaga was initially launched in 2015 as a helicopter destroyer, with its flat top giving it a close resemblance with aircraft carriers. It was put into service two years later, in 2017. It was primarily intended to serve as a core ship in anti-submarine warfare and to transport SH-60 helicopters. 

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F-35B Lightning fighters

However, in 2018, the Japanese government decided to equip the Izumo-class DDH with F-35B fighter fighters by altering it. This primarily aims to enhance air defense capabilities, particularly in the Pacific, and to support the F-35B operation by the US Navy’s LHA/LHD.

It is also believed to be an effort to strengthen Japan’s influence in the region, given the Indo-Pacific Deployment (IPD), a long-term deployment of destroyers and Izumo-class DDHs in the Indo-Pacific region that has been ongoing for the past few years. With the burgeoning security threat from China, Russia, and North Korea, expansion and strengthening of military capability has become a policy imperative for Tokyo.

Since the F-35B is a stealth fighter jet, it could fly impervious to the enemy radars. Its operation aboard a carrier would allow the fighter to go farther than the F-35A version of the aircraft the country already operates.

Japan is especially interested in protecting the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islands would probably prove to be weak points in the event of a confrontation, and F-35Bs launched from Izumo class carriers could prove to be beneficial in protecting them. 

An aircraft carrier is needed to operate the F-35B. JS Izumo and JS Kaga, two Izumo-class helicopter carriers, will be converted into aircraft carriers by the JMSDF in time for the 2027 fiscal year so they may begin operating Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter aircraft. Kaga’s conversion into an F-35B carrier is anticipated in early 2027.

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The Izumo-class modification is broken down into two stages. In 2021, Izumo, the first ship, has already finished its first alteration. The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B conducted its first demonstration test of landing and takeoff in October of that same year.

In addition to fresh yellow markings, Izumo’s flight deck received a new heat-resistant coating to withstand the exhaust heat of the F-35B. The JMSDF was allocated JPY20.3 billion (US$167.7 million) in FY 2021 to carry out the first stage of modifications.

Regarding Kaga, JMU began construction on a renovation at the company’s shipyard in Kure in March 2022. Along with the bow modifications, the ship’s initial modifications include drawing the yellow lines on the flight deck required for launching and landing F-35Bs, adding more guidance lights, strengthening the flight deck to support additional weight, and equipping the ship with heat-resistant deck spots for vertical landings.

U.S. Marines on X: "At the request of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242, @1stMAW_Marines, conducted the first ever landing of two F-35B Lightning II aircraft aboard the
F-35B first landing on Izumo (via Platform X)

The images published on social media earlier this year revealed a drastic alteration to the ship’s bow as it appeared to be much broader Because of its optimization for the F-35B, which is capable of short takeoff and landing.

In addition, the Phalanx 20mm close-in weapon system (CIWS) that was formerly visible at the front of the ship has been removed, most likely to provide room on the deck for the F-35Bs when they take off.

The MoD will purchase Raytheon’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS), a landing aid system for F-35B aircraft, during the current fiscal year 2023. Furthermore, renovations to the flight deck’s beacon lights and building a temperature measuring apparatus will be completed. Modifications to the satellite communication system will also be made.

The ship’s interior compartments will be altered as part of the second and final upgrades, scheduled to be completed during Kaga’s upcoming overhaul at the end of fiscal year 2026. Concurrently, Izumo is expected to modify the front portion of its flight deck from a trapezoid to a square shape in April 2024, in line with the modifications made by JS Kaga in the current fiscal year 2023.

The Izumo class warships are undergoing improvements that may improve interoperability with Japan’s partners’ F-35B aircraft. This can apply to Singapore in addition to the United States. Like Japan, South Korea had previously intended to upgrade its amphibious assault ship. This Dokdo class was initially designated as a landing platform helicopter (LPH) for an F-35B carrier.