The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) has shared first photos and video of its converted helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) operating F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighters from its flight deck.
The milestone first flight took place on October 3 and was performed by US Marine Corps F-35Bs currently forward-deployed to Marine Combat Air Station Iwakuni.
The former helicopter destroyer, which has now been turned into a light aircraft carrier, arrived at MCAS Iwakuni to embark the fighter jets on September 29. According to footage released by Japan, the F-35B supporting the trials are from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242) which completed its transition from the F/A-18D Hornet to the F-35B Lightning II in October 2020.
“This trial has proved that the JS Izumo has the capability 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 JMSDF Rear Admiral Shukaku Komuta, commander of Escort Flotilla One.
“We still have work to do until the day the JSDF can regularly employ STOVL aircraft at sea, but I am confident that the strong partnership and mutual trust between our two counties will result in its realization,” Komuta added.
The trials mark the first time fighter aircraft are flying from a Japanese carrier since World War II, in a move enabled by Japan’s shift in its defense guidelines from 2018.
According to an earlier Japan defense ministry statement, the first phase of F-35B trials is scheduled to conclude on October 7.
Just like the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, which was recently converted to a STOVL-capable ship, JS Izumo underwent modifications that included the addition of special thermion coating to allow the carrier’s deck to handle the thermodynamic impacts of F-35B operations.
The Italian carrier spent four weeks in total to certify the ship and crew for F-35B operations.
Japan is poised to become the second largest operator of F-35 fighter jets, including the conventional F-35A and the F-35B STOVL variant. The country already has F-35Bs on order and plans to eventually order and operate 42 F-35Bs and 115 F-35As. Japan is one of 14 nations worldwide that participate in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program
Lockheed Martin will deliver the first F-35Bs to Japan in 2024.