Modified Japanese ship welcomes first F-35B operations

In early October, two Lockheed Martin F-35B fighters of the United States Marine Corps carried out the first type recoveries and launches from JS Izumo, one of the two helicopter carriers of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). to be modified to meet F-35 operations in advance. the arrival of the Japanese F-35Bs. In doing so, they became the first fixed-wing aircraft to operate from a Japanese ship since the days of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The F-35Bs came from VMFA-242 “Bats”, one of two Japanese-based naval squadrons at Iwakuni. During the operation, they were refueled by a KC-130J of the VMGR-152 “Sumos” from the same base. The aim of the operation was to demonstrate the type’s ability to operate from the ship, which recently completed the first phase of a modification to enable it to undertake F-35B operations.

“This test has proven that the JS Izumo has the ability to support takeoffs and landings of STOVL aircraft at sea, which will allow us to provide an additional option for air defense in the Pacific Ocean in the near future. “said Rear Admiral Komuta Shukaku. , commander of the first escort flotilla of the JMSDF. “We have work to do until the day when the JMSDF can regularly use STOVL aircraft at sea, but I am convinced that the strong partnership and mutual trust between our two countries will translate into its realization. “

Japan announced its intention to acquire 42 of the short take-off / vertical landing (STOVL) version of the F-35B in August 2019, as well as a planned purchase of 100 aircraft of the ground version of the F-35A. So far, eight F-35Bs have been engaged. They are to be operated from two converted aircraft carriers and from remote coastal bases on the islands of Japan.

In July 2021, the first modified vessel, the Izumo, returned to its home port of Yokosuka after a period of routine maintenance scheduled every five years with Japan Marine United in Yokohama. During its lay-up, a heat-resistant coating was applied to the cockpit to protect it from the effects of the F-35B’s downward pointing exhaust, as well as new lighting and markings. Bridge. The initial check of the ability to recover and launch the F-35B was undertaken at the request of the Japanese Ministry of Defense. Japan intends to operate the F-35B from its ships in a manner similar to that used by the Marines, with short rolling takeoffs and vertical recoveries. The two boats will not be equipped with springboards.

In the second phase of its modification, scheduled for 2024, Izumo will see its bow redesigned with a square end at the cockpit to facilitate F-35 operations. A second ship, the JS Kaga, is due to enter the modification process towards the end of the year, with the majority of the work, including the new bow shape, being completed in a single phase. Once the work is completed, ships will be able to embark a maximum of 12/14 F-35Bs.

In July, it was announced that the main land base of the F-35B would be Nyutabaru, near the islands of southwestern Japan, and also Kure, which is Kaga’s home port. The aircraft will be operated by two squadrons of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, each numbering around 20 aircraft. Japanese media report that the first six planes are expected in 2024, and two more the following year. It is expected that initial operations of both ships will begin with United States Marine Corps aircraft to prepare JMSDF personnel for the start of Japanese F-35B operations.

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