USMC considering flying F-35Bs off of Japan’s largest warships

Officials in Tokyo have requested Marines deploy F-35B fighters aboard Japan’s largest warships, a U.S. defense official confirmed noon Friday, according to USNI News.

The service is now studying the feasibility of deploying short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) fighters from JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184), Japan’s 24,000-ton big deck amphibious ships.

The warships were originally designed to field a fleet of anti-submarine warfare helicopters and respond to humanitarian aid and disaster relief. However, in December Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a move to convert the two ships to field the STOVL F-35s in parallel with Japan’s purchase of 42 F-35Bs, reported The Diplomat.

In March, the Abe government asked then-Marine commandant Gen. Robert Neller if the U.S. would consider deploying Marine F-35Bs from Izumo and Kaga, reported The Asahi Shimbun earlier this week.

Prompted by the request, the Marines are now standing up groups to determine the technical feasibility of deploying U.S. F-35s from the two ships ahead of the Japanese Self-Defense Force F-35Bs being fielded.

While the two ships were built with an eye toward STOVL fighter operations, the U.S. has to make an independent determination if their F-35s can operate on Izumo and Kaga.

For example, U.S. Wasp-class big deck amphibious ships have to undergo deck strengthening and have new heat resistant flight deck treatments as the Marines replace their AV-8B Harriers with F-35Bs. It’s unclear what additional work would be needed to make the two ships ready for F-35s. The Marines currently have an F-35B squadron forward-deployed to Japan — the “Green Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 that operate with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group as part of the 31st Marine Expediniaory Unit.

The Marines have charted out a similar relationship with the U.K. Royal Navy to deploy a squadron of F-35Bs from the new HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) carrier for its first deployment.