Navy of Japan plans to deploy two aircraft carriers to counter the deployment of new Chinese aircraft carriers. The Japanese Navy will modernize two Izumo-class helicopter carriers in order to support F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters. This will increase the number of aircraft carrier operators in the Asia-Pacific region.
In November 2018, Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya has announced that Tokyo is considering buying the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and will modify the two Izumo-class helicopter carriers of Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF’s) to facilitate F-35B operations.
On 18 December 2018, the Japanese Cabinet gave the approval to modify the Izumo-class into de facto aircraft carriers. The modifications will reinforce the decks of the Izumo-class ships to support the additional weight of F-35B jets, as well as the heat and forces from the jets during vertical landing. The ruling parties re-designated the Izumo-class ships to multi-purpose operation destroyers.
The Izumo-class multi-purpose destroyer or 22DDH is a class of de facto aircraft carriers originally ordered to operate as a helicopter carrier constructed for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). In late 2018 the ship was predesignated as multi-purpose operation destroyers following the announcement that they would operate STOVL F-35 fighter aircraft.
According to naval defense sources, BAE Systems could assist the Japanese Navy with the integration of fixed-wing fighters aboard the two Izumo-class helicopter carriers. In fact, BAE Systems has already performed this work on the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which will also operate the F-35B.
It could be not easy to transform the two Izumo-class helicopter carriers into a real aircraft carrier, this ship is designed to carry only helicopters or small naval aircraft, but other countries as Australia and Italy are currently on the process to upgrade and modernize ships to allow the use of F-35B fighter jet.