On Sunday, a pair of United States Marine Corps F-35B jump jets from Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 landed on the Japanese aircraft carrier JS and were then launched from it. Izumo.
The proof of concept comes just a few months after the 813 footer Izumo, which the Japanese built as a helicopter carrier, has completed the first of two sets of modifications, so far costing around $ 30 million, to carry fixed-wing aircraft. Izumosister ship Kaga undergoes its own similar modification in one go from this year.
The F-35Bs landed safely using the standard maneuver, whereby a pilot converts the jump jet into hover mode while flying alongside the transporter, then glides sideways across the deck before landing.
The stealth jets launched along the port side of Izumofrom the bridge, carefully avoiding the self-defense gun which is still attached to the bow of the aircraft carrier. The modifications that the Japanese Navy plans to begin in 2024 are expected to relocate the gun in order to release more Izumothe bridge for flight operations.
“This trial has proven that the JS Izumo has the capacity to support take-offs and landings of [short-takeoff, vertical-landing] planes at sea, which will allow us to provide an additional air defense option in the Pacific Ocean in the near future, ”said Japanese Navy Rear Admiral Shukaku Komuta, Commander of Escort One.
The return of large-bridge aviation to the Japanese fleet is just in time. The Western Pacific is becoming more and more dangerous day by day as China continues its massive military build-up.
As it rushes to qualify its new carriers for frontline operations, the Japanese fleet has had no choice but to invite US Marine jets on board. Izumo. Japanese Air Force acquires 42 F-35Bs to operate from Izumo and Kaga, but the first of the jump jets is not expected to arrive in Japan until 2023.
The partnership with the Marines allows the Japanese Navy to train deck crews and develop procedures before Japan’s F-35Bs enter service.
It should be noted that the United States Marine Corps, which with more than 100 F-35Bs is the largest anti-radar jet aircraft operator, is helping other Allied Marines develop their own new aircraft carrier.
Marine jets embarked on the Royal Navy’s new flat-roofed HMS queen elizabeth for its current inaugural cruise, which saw the 919-foot aircraft carrier sail south of Taiwan around the same time Izumo landed F-35Bs for the first time.
This spring, the Marines F-35B also briefly operated from the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour off the coast of Virginia to verify the improvements allowing this ship to operate Italy’s own F-35Bs.
The resuscitation of Japan’s aircraft carrier fleet is not without controversy. The Japanese Navy was a major transport power during World War II. But generations of post-war Japanese rulers viewed aircraft carriers as incompatible with the country’s new strictly defensive military posture.
But as China has expanded its fleet and extended its territorial claims further into the Western Pacific, Japanese leaders have rethought their position. The Japanese navy has long operated helicopter carriers. It was a small but politically significant step when, in 2018, Tokyo approved the Izumo and Kagaconversions to airplane carriers.
The two new flattops have an obvious place in Japan’s naval strategy. In a war with China, the Japanese fleet would aim to prevent the Chinese fleet from exiting the Chinese seas by a northern route and entering the wider Pacific Ocean.
A chain of island outposts stretching from Japan to Taiwan would anchor the blockade. Heavily armed naval forces would fill in the gaps between the islands. Aircraft carriers carrying F-35Bs would protect task forces and increase their firepower at long range.
As they complete the modifications and prepare for the formation of their own air wings in the years to come, Izumo and Kaga will have a lot of company. More and more aircraft carriers are invading the Western Pacific.
The Chinese fleet has two medium flattops and is completing a third larger carrier. The two new Royal Navy medium aircraft carriers are expected to be regular visitors to the region. The South Korean Navy is building its own new F-35 aircraft carrier.
And then there are the ever-present US Navy supercarriers and assault ships. While Izumo landed and launched its first jets, the aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald reagan, each with about 70 planes on board, were not far away.