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Marine Corps F-35B – US fighter jets to fly from Japan’s JS Izumo



  • U.S. Marine Corps fighters will fly from Japan’s first fixed-wing aircraft carrier in more than half a century.
  • JS Izumo recently underwent a refit that allowed it to operate F-35Bs.
  • The deployment highlights how flying the same aircraft increases the ability of different navies to fly jets from each other’s ships.

    The US Marine Corps’ F-35B fighter jets will take off this year from an unlikely location: the deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier.

    The carrier, Izumo, is the country’s first warship capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft since World War II. Izumo recently emerged from the first part of a two-part fairing designed to allow it to operate F-35Bs. Japan has ordered up to 42 F-35Bs and is carrying out refits on Izumo and his sister ship, Kaga.

    Izumo will operate the Marine Corps’ F-35B fighters for an undisclosed length of time (this will not be a full-fledged deployment), while Japan awaits the arrival of its own fleet of F-35Bs over the next five years.

    Marine Corps Command General David Berger made the announcement last Wednesday as the aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy HMS queen elizabeth is visiting Yokosuka, Japan. A Marine Corps F-35B squadron is deployed aboard queen elizabeth for the duration of the ship’s maiden voyage, which takes it halfway around the world to visit countries in Asia-Pacific.

    queen elizabeth is designed to accommodate up to three dozen F-35Bs and currently operates around 18, including 10 from Marine Corps Strike Fighter Squadron VMFA-211, the “Wake Island Avengers” and eight jets from the 617 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Air Force .

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    US Marines used F-35Bs from amphibious assault ships since 2018, building on their long experience in the use of the AV-8B Harrier II jump jet. The US and UK agreed to the joint deployment in the late 2010s, and Japan, inspired by the concept, invited US planes to operate from the Japanese ship.

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    Like the UK, Japan has ordered F-35Bs from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and is eager to begin training in aircraft carrier operations.

    The F-35B is broadly similar to the Air Force’s F-35A and F-35C, but differs in the ability to take off and land vertically. Unlike its cousins, the F-35B can rotate its exhaust nozzle downward. This generates an upward thrust, propelling the aircraft upward – or gently lowering it toward a ship’s flight deck.

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    The F-35C was built for aircraft carriers but requires ships with integrated catapults and arresting equipment to facilitate takeoffs and landings. The F-35B, however, can operate from virtually anywhere, provided it has a few hundred feet to perform a quick takeoff and a relatively small place to land vertically. (The F-35B can take off vertically, but this severely limits the amount of fuel and weapons it can carry.)

    The versatility of the F-35B has led it to become the go-to fighter jet for navies who do not use traditional aircraft carrier catapults and arresting equipment. The Royal Navy operates them from the new HMS aircraft carriers queen elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. The Italian Navy will also operate the F-35B of the carrier ITS Cavour. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will operate them off JS Izumo and JS Kaga, while South Korea is currently designing the country’s first aircraft carrier to accommodate F-35Bs.

    190619 n pj626 0004 south china sea june 19, 2019 us navy forward deployed aircraft carrier uss ronald reagan cvn 76 sails alongside japan maritime self-defense force helicopter destroyer js izumo ddh 183 While conducting operations in the south china sea ronald reagan, the flagship of carrier strike group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the indo-pacific region us navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila Peters
    The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald reagan and JS Izumo sailing together in the South China Sea, June 2019.

    US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila Peters

    JS Izumo was commissioned in March 2015 as a “helicopter destroyer”. Japanese surface warships are built with convoy escort missions in mind, a legacy of the famine blockade imposed by the US Navy during World War II. Japanese naval planners have planned a return to aircraft carriers for decades, but have been blocked by the country’s pacifist constitution and the ban on aircraft carriers as offensive weapons of war.

    The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning passes the summit of Lamma Island upon arrival in Hong Kong on July 7, 2017, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said that the Liaoning, named after a northeastern province from china, was part of a flotilla on a routine training mission and would make a port of call in the former british colony afp photo richard a brooks photo credit should read richard a brooksafp via getty images
    China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, entered the port of Hong Kong in 2017. The Liaoning uses a ski ramp instead of catapults to launch planes, although it uses ground planes with stopping gear.

    AFP Contributor Richard A. BrooksGetty Images

    The commissioning of the first Chinese carrier, Liaoning, in 2012 changed all that. Izumo and his sister ship Kaga were built to operate a large number of anti-submarine helicopters, but also coincidentally with aircraft elevators designed to support the weight of an F-35B fighter-bomber. The decision was made in 2019 that the two ships could become “defensive” aircraft carriers, allowing more planes to operate from Japan’s westernmost islands without opening more air bases on the ground.

    Izumo was the first vessel to enter the shipyard for a transporter conversion, entry to Yokohama shipyard in March 2020. The first step was, like older American amphibious ships undergoing a similar conversion, to add a heat-resistant coating to the Izumothe flight deck. The F-35B’s ability to take off and land vertically means that the exhaust nozzle often ends up pointing directly at the flight deck, resulting in thermal damage to untreated ships. According to Naval News, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will complete the conversion process with a second refit in 2026.

    Japanese F-35As fly over a military parade in Saitama, Japan, in October 2018.

    KAZUHIRO NOGIGetty Images

    The F-35 program has been controversial to say the least, but one of the more intriguing aspects is the fighter’s ability to operate from any platform capable of supporting it. While this has always been a selling point, it has taken on new meaning as China’s neighbors thwart the country’s growing military power and aggressive foreign policy. US jets can now operate from Japanese ships, and vice versa, and even from European warships such as queen elizabeth can take action. This sends a powerful message of unity to Beijing, which will hopefully temper its ambitions abroad.

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