Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has presented a proposal that seeks to enhance the country’s defenses in response to the growing tension created by North Korea’s missile program and China’s expanding maritime presence.
The purchase of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter is a critical element of the plan. Its STOVL capabilities allow them to deploy from both the new carrier and, the Izumo-class “helicopter destroyer.” Each vessel could accommodate around 10 F-35Bs.
The F-35B is the U.S. Marine’s version of the Joint Strike Fighter. Unlike the other variants of the F-35, the F-35B is capable of short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL). According to Lockheed Martin, the maker of the jet, it is the “the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft.” As Lockheed Martin also notes, the F-35B “is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front-line combat zones.”
Japan is already an operator of the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing Joint Strike Fighter, which was selected by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in December 2011.
The first four of a 42-aircraft buy have been assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth line, from where the first flight was made in August 2016. The remaining 38 are being assembled at a FACO (final assembly and check out) facility at Komaki by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, although there are no locally manufactured parts. The first was rolled out from the FACO in June 2017.
Hyuga is a large destroyer, with the ability to operate a large number of support helicopters. Izumo can operate more aircraft but has extremely limited weaponry of its own.
The purchase of F-35Bs and a new multi-purpose aircraft carrier/hospital ship are included. The plan is expected to be presented to parliament in late May.