This month, United States Marine Corps F-35Bs landed and took off aboard the Japanese warship Izumo.
It was the first time that a fixed-wing aircraft had been operated from a Japanese aircraft carrier in 75 years.
This milestone reflects Japan’s growing interest in countering China and its close collaboration with its allies to achieve it.
As China increases the size and capacity of its military, Japan has responded by adapting its self-defense force to deal with what it sees as a growing threat.
Japan has created its first amphibious military unit since World War II and launched a new class of high-tech frigates, and is restructuring its tank force to be lighter and more mobile and boosting its missile capabilities.
Perhaps the most telling move, however, is the conversion of its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers into dedicated aircraft carriers.
On Sunday, two US Marine Corps F-35Bs landed and took off from the deck of the Izumo, the lead ship of the class – the first time a fixed-wing aircraft has operated from a carrier. Japanese planes in 75 years.
The test is only the first step towards obtaining Japan’s first aircraft carriers since World War II.
Japan has a long history with flattops, ordering its first, Hōshō, in 1922.
The Hōshō was the world’s first specially designed aircraft carrier to enter service, defeating HMS Hermes, which the British Royal Navy had started building nearly three years earlier.
Japan was one of the first countries to make efficient use of carriers. Their employment against China in the 1930s gave the Japanese considerable experience compared to their Western counterparts and led to better designs for Japanese aircraft carriers and transport planes as well as high training standards.
By 1941, some of the Japanese carriers were widely regarded as the best in the world. The Japanese Navy used coordinated formations from several aircraft carriers, which showed their strength at Pearl Harbor and then helped Japan dominate the Pacific for the first six months of the war.
But while Japan started the war with one of the best aircraft carrier forces in service, it couldn’t compete with the industrial might of the United States, which built many new aircraft carriers and warships. faster and in much higher numbers.
By the end of the war, every aircraft carrier Japan had in service had been sunk or damaged, and there was a lack of manpower or resources to complete the construction of those it had under construction.
Aircraft carrier warships
After the war, Japan adopted a pacifist constitution. As a result, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has never deployed aircraft carriers due to their traditionally offensive nature.
In the 1960s, however, the JMSDF became concerned about the threat of increasingly sophisticated Soviet submarines and sought ships capable of carrying helicopters for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations.
The first of these ships were the two Haruna class destroyers Haruna and Hiei. Commissioned in 1973 and 1974, respectively, they each had a large central hangar that could carry three SH-3 Sea King and later SH-60K helicopters, and flew from a cockpit at the rear of the ship.
In addition to the helicopters, the destroyers were armed with two Mk. 42 5-inch guns, two Phalanx close-range weapon systems, a single eight-gun Sea Sparrow SAM launcher, an eight-gun ASROC launcher, and two triple torpedo tubes. .
The Haruna class was followed by the Shirane, Shirane and Kurama class destroyers, which were ordered in 1980 and 1981, respectively, and were similarly armed.
In 1998, the JMSDF commissioned the first of three Ōsumi-class tank landing ships. Ōsumis have a flat deck and can carry several helicopters and amphibious vehicles. Although in appearance they resemble amphibious assault ships, they are primarily used for transport tasks.
In 2009, the JMSDF commissioned the Hyūga helicopter destroyer, the first in its class. It has a 646-foot flat deck and can carry up to 11 helicopters, mostly MCH-101 and SH-60K. It is armed with 16 Mk 41 vertical launch system cells, two Phalanx close-range weapon systems and two triple torpedo tubes.
A second Hyūga-class ship, the Ise, entered service in 2011. Both ships are primarily responsible for ASW missions and are classified as “escort ships” by the JMSDF.
The biggest ships in Japan
Hyūga and Ise were the largest ships in the JMSDF until Izumo, which launched in 2013 and entered service in 2015.
The Izumo and its sister ship, the Kaga, are both 813 feet long and, like the Hyūgas, were helicopter carriers intended for ASM operations.
However, in 2018, after years of speculation, the Japanese government confirmed that it would convert Izumo-class ships into aircraft carriers and purchase 42 F-35Bs with short take-off and vertical landing capability. .
It’s unclear how many planes each ship can deploy with, but the conversion may allow them to carry well over a dozen
helicopters and fighter planes.
The first phase of modification for Izumo began in 2020 and ended in July. The ship now has a distinctive yellow line similar to that of the US Navy’s America-class amphibious assault ships. The Izumo bridge also received a heat resistant coating.
The second modification phase is expected to start around early 2025 and will involve changing the bow from its current trapezoidal shape to a rectangular shape, along with modifications to the interior of the ship.
Kaga is expected to begin its first modification phase in early 2022, and work is expected to last 14 months.
Japan hopes to acquire its first 18 F-35Bs in 2023 or early 2024. They will be flown by the Japanese Air Force and will be based at Nyutabaru Air Base in Kyushu, the southernmost of the four largest islands. from Japan. Jets will only board aircraft carriers in certain situations.
More planes, more options
The decision to convert the ships into aircraft carriers was prompted by China. Beijing has adopted an aggressive foreign policy, especially in dealing with territorial disputes, which has alarmed many of its neighbors.
In 2018, Japan accused China of engaging in “unilateral and coercive attempts to change the status quo on the basis of its own claims that are inconsistent with the existing international order.”
Of particular concern to Japan are China’s actions around the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands north of Taiwan, administered by Japan but claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands.
China’s largest navy, which continues to grow, includes two aircraft carriers and a third is on its way. It also has one Type 075 amphibious assault ship in service and two others in the water. The Chinese air force and naval planes make it the largest air force in the region, according to the Pentagon.
Faced with the growth of China’s air and naval fleets, the new aircraft carriers will allow Japan to bring its own planes from multiple directions and will allow Japanese, American and possibly European F-35Bs to operate. from their respective ships.
Read the original article on Business Insider