Recent news is that Japan is going to convert its two Izumo class helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers. This follows on the U.S Marines landing an F-35B VERTOL on the deck of an Izumo class carrier. It’s been about 70 years since a fixed-wing aircraft landed on one of Japan’s naval vessels. Here in the U.S., we have a hard time imagining any nation having a navy without having a fixed-wing capable carrier. Japan’s move to refit two of its helicopter carrier represents will be very significant towards Japan having a true blue water navy again, one not only capable of protecting itself but also projecting power outside Japanese territorial waters.
Along with the conversion of these two 20,000 tons ships, Japan has also purchased some 105 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 63 of the A model which flies off runways, and 42 of the B Model which can take off vertically from carrier decks.
Now before you sneer at Japan having just 42 of these F-35s on just two carriers, it’s important to remember that small deck carriers actually have a higher sortie rate than our 100,000-ton behemoth carriers like the USS Abe Lincoln. The vertical take-off and landing abilities of the F-35B would allow several aircraft to land on the carrier almost at once, be refueled and rearmed on deck, and return for another strike. Perhaps in as little as 15 minutes.
What Japan calls its navy, the Maritime Self-Defense Force was permitted to it by the U.S. after it defeated, disarmed, and occupied Japan following WWII. It was formed with the remaining ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy,\ (hardly any) and was augmented by the sale of surplus U.S. destroyers (note the irony of that). It was strictly limited to coastal patrol as the U.S. and Japan had signed a treaty stipulating that we would defend them against attack by an aggressor. At that time, the United States had the most powerful army, navy, and air force on the planet.