New Deck Unveiled on MSDF Helicopter Carrier Kaga; Modification Will Let Fighter Jets Take Off

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel Kaga after its first-stage modification to gain aircraft carrier functions is seen from a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Sunday.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force showed the multi-role helicopter carrier Kaga to the press on Monday at its Kure Base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, after first-stage modification work to make it capable of accommodating fixed-wing fighter jets was completed.

The modification is to make the helicopter carrier also capable of operating as a de facto aircraft carrier.

The major change is in the shape of its flight deck, which is now completely rectangular, enabling fighter jets to take off safely.

From now on, the Kaga will serve as a seagoing base on which F-35Bs, the latest stealth fighters, will take off and land.

The Kaga is Japan’s second Izumo-class helicopter carrier. The Izumo-class vessels, with an overall length of 248 meters, are the largest surface combat ships of the MSDF.

In the 2018 medium-term defense program, the government stipulated that the two Izumo-class ships would be capable of operating as de facto aircraft carriers to strengthen warning and surveillance ability, and to enhance the MSDF’s air defense capabilities in the event of contingencies.

The F-35B fighters to be accommodated in the Izumo-class ships can direct their jet engine nozzles downward. Thus, the fighters can take off from a short runway and land vertically.

The Izumo, the first ship of the class, already received its first-stage modification, but that work only added heat-resistant paint to its flight deck so that the surface can endure the heat from jet engines.

The Kaga is the first MSDF ship for which the flight deck was made rectangular like that of a full-scale aircraft carrier.

The modification work on the Kaga began in March 2022 and was completed on March 29 this year.

According to senior Defense Ministry officials, modifying the shape of the forward part of the flight deck from a trapezoid to a rectangle can reduce the turbulence of air flows from the direction of the bow and so increase stability for fighter jet takeoffs.

The Kaga will receive second-stage modifications starting in fiscal 2026 and facilities inside the ship’s body will be altered.

On Monday, the ship’s captain told reporters, “By obtaining an additional capability of operating F-35Bs, flexibility [in operations] can be raised.”

The Izumo is scheduled to begin receiving its second-stage modification within this fiscal year.

A few years later, the MSDF will establish an operational capability of deploying the Izumo and the Kaga as its two de facto aircraft carriers.

The government’s position has long been that Japan is not allowed to possess attack-type aircraft carriers for conducting airstrikes on foreign soil.

But concerning the Izumo-class ships after the modifications, the government states that they remain the minimum equipment necessary for self-defense, and so possessing them is no problem.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kaga before the modification is seen from a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter in Osaka Port on May 19, 2018.