The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JS Izumo (DDH-183) helicopter destroyer steams during a ship maneuver exercise for Malabar 2017. US Navy photo

This post has been updated to say that the US Marine F-35s on JS Izumo are expected to arrive by November.

The US Navy’s F-35B Lighting II joint fighter jets will operate from a Japanese warship later this year, Marine Corps Commander David Berger said on Wednesday.

By November, the Marines F-35B will board one of two 24,000-ton Izumo-class helicopter destroyers in an exchange that could lead to a similar program in which a US Navy squadron JSF will embark aboard the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS. queen elizabeth (R08) this year, he said.

“We’re not going to be deployed, but we’re actually going to fly U.S. Marine Corps F-35s from a Japanese ship,” Berger said Wednesday during a maritime safety dialogue between the US Naval Institute and CSIS.

The Japanese government approached the Marines in 2019 to consider the exchange of planes alongside the modernization that would allow the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force JS warships. Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184) to embark F-35Bs, USNI News reported at the time.

The warship will likely be JS Izumo (DDH-183). Izumo completed the first phase of modifications to accommodate the F-35s in July, according to Naval News. The modifications include the addition of lines to the bridge and heat resistant coatings.

“In this second modification, the shape of the bow of the Izumo will change from the current trapezoidal shape to a rectangular shape to facilitate the use of the F-35B, and further modifications to the interior compartments of the ship are also planned, ”reported Naval News.

The modification of Izumo and Kaga are paired with a planned JSDF purchase of 42 F-35Bs to operate from both ships. The first of the JSDF F-35Bs is expected to arrive in fiscal year 2023.

The expansion of Japan’s F-35 capability comes as the Chinese have expanded their own naval capability to improve the amphibious capability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Some have argued that the use of F-35 on Izumo and Kaga could be seen as a defensive move.

The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) prepares for take off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) on August 25, 2021. Navy photo american

“The challenges of defending [JMSDF] fleet against aircraft armed with cruise missiles (or hypersonic glide weapons) highlight the need to improve the Izumo-class for operating the F-35B STOVL aircraft, since the average range of ship-launched killer missiles is several hundred miles, while the average range of ship-launched anti-aircraft and defensive anti-missiles is only about 100 miles ”, wrote U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair and retired Captain Christopher Rodeman in Proceedings in 2019.
“Armed with short-range anti-ship missiles, the F-35B would be very effective against ‘swarm tactics’ of patrol vessels or maritime militia ships. In an “island capture” scenario, the F-35B would be invaluable in establishing the local air control required for Japan’s new amphibious regiment to recapture remote islands.

While the embarkation of Marines is limited to testing, the shared ability of U.S. allies to operate F-35Bs helps strengthen ties with bilateral partners in the region. Berger cited Navy fighters on Japanese warships as an example of how the United States is refining its ties with its regional allies.

Unlike the multinational construction of NATO in the Atlantic, the United States is working one-on-one with its allies in the region. Berger said that a constant problem is sharing information with allies and that ad hoc alliances like the so-called Quad between the United States, Japan, India and Australia are creating new ways for the United States to cooperate in the region.

“I think watching the Quad take off slowly, quietly, is a good thing,” said Berger. “There are already frameworks on how we share information with Australia, Japan, Korea, South Korea, Republic of Korea, Philippines, but these are individual agreements. On the positive side, I would watch carefully things like the deployment of the queen elizabeth See you soon.

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