Japanese helicopter converted to host F-35B flight tests

MELBOURNE, Australia – United States Marine Corps F-35 aircraft based in Japan will conduct flight operations from a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier that is being converted to operate the fifth generation fighter aircraft.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said in a September 30 press release that the F-35Bs, which are capable of short take-off and vertical landings, or STOVLs, will perform landing and take-off tests on the JS Izumo. between October 3 and 7.

Flight operations will take place somewhere in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan and will be used to verify cockpit modifications that will allow the ship to operate the Lockheed Martin-made aircraft.

The American ally needs 42 F-35Bs out of a total of 157 F-35s it is acquiring. It already has eight STOVL aircraft under contract for delivery from 2024, with the latest Japanese defense budget allocating funds for four more aircraft in fiscal year 2022.

The Marine Corps F-35Bs that will conduct the operations will be fired from the aircraft currently deployed at Marine Combat Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. According to the base, the Izumo docked at the facility earlier today “in support of regional security and stability operations.”

It is not clear which Marines squadron will support air operations on the Izumo, although it is likely the aircraft and crew of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, which operates the F -35B since 2012 and based in Japan since 2017.

Iwakuni’s second squadron, VMFA-242, only recently reached initial operational capability on the F-35B, not having started its transition to that type until late 2020.

The first stage of conversion work on the ship, whose flight deck previously operated only helicopters, has already been completed, as the ship appeared in June with newly painted lines on its flight deck for operations fixed-wing aerials.

The scope of work already carried out by the Japan Marine United shipyard in Isogo, Yokohama, also included the application of a heat resistant coating on the cockpit to deal with the temperatures of the F-35B exhaust. and installation of lighting for landing and other wing aircraft operations.

The Japanese government has already allocated $ 60 million for additional work to convert Izumo into the defense budget for fiscal year 2022. According to a report on Yahoo Japan’s news portal, this will include 32.2 million dollars to acquire Raytheon’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, or JPALS, and $ 10.7 million to the U.S. military for unspecified technical support.

The next step in the conversion will include rebuilding the cockpit bow from a trapezoidal to rectangular shape, as well as modifications to the ship’s internal spaces to accommodate F-35B operations.

These changes will likely create an increase in on-board aviation fuel capacity and reserves of armored magazines to store air-launched weapons, and are expected to be completed in 2026. Japan will also convert Izumo’s sister ship, the Kaga, in an F-35B aircraft carrier.

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