Japan eyes F-35B training drills on Izumo destroyer

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Landing and takeoff drills involving U.S. F-35B stealth fighters may be conducted on the Japanese destroyer Izumo by the end of this year, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Japan’s government is considering holding such training on the Izumo destroyer, which is undergoing modifications to essentially turn it into an aircraft carrier. The drills would be a prelude to future joint operations with the U.S. military, aimed at warning off China, which is increasing its military activities in the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, according to sources.

With a displacement of 19,950 tons, the 248-meter Izumo is one of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest destroyers. It is currently being remodeled to enable U.S.-made F-35B fighter jets to land on and take off. These state-of-art jets can take off on short runways and land vertically.

The flight deck was to be coated with heat-resistant paint, and the shape of the destroyer’s neck modified to prevent turbulence during takeoffs and landing. The remodeling will be conducted in two stages — the first stage, which involves the heat-resistant coating, is believed to be mostly completed.

Under its Medium Term Defense Program, the government plans to procure 18 F-35B fighter jets by fiscal 2023 and put them into operation from the following fiscal year. At present, Japan does not possess any F-35B jets.

The government therefore intends to conduct landing and takeoff training using F-35B jets deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, to test the modified heat-resistant deck and other functions, according to the sources.

It also intends to consider allowing the SDF’s F-35B aircraft to take off from and land on U.S. vessels in the future after learning operational techniques from the U.S. military, the sources said.

China commissioned its first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Shandong, in December 2019. Together with the Liaoning, which was launched in 2012, the country currently conducts maritime activities with these two aircraft carriers.

With a third aircraft carrier said to be under construction, Beijing has strengthened its activities involving aircraft carriers and bombers in waters near Japan.

In response, the Japanese government plans to start work at the end of this fiscal year to remodel the Izumo-class destroyer Kaga to make it an aircraft carrier, the sources said. The Japanese and U.S. governments intend to use these destroyers to refuel fighter jets in an agile manner to enhance both countries’ capabilities of air force operations.

Plans are to use the Japanese destroyers that will be modified into aircraft carriers to patrol for submarines, and conduct medical and transportation operations, in principle.

The Japanese government has said it will operate fighter jets within the scope of exclusively defense-oriented operations, such as by limiting the use of such aircraft to training and emergency situations.

Tokyo therefore says the modified destroyers will not constitute “offensive aircraft carriers,” the possession of which is prohibited under Article 9 of the Constitution.