Tokyo is getting carriers.
Key point: Tokyo will pair the F-35 with its two helicopter carriers. This will be the first time that modern Japan has true, fixed-wing aircraft carriers.
Japan’s cabinet on Dec. 18, 2018 approved a plan to modify the Japanese navy’s two Izumo-class helicopter carriers to embark F-35B stealth fighters.
The modifications should result in the Japanese fleet operating, for the first time since World War II, flattops with fixed-wing aircraft. With the two ships and their new planes, Tokyo could be able to duplicate the United Kingdom’s own 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from invading Argentine forces.
“You can still do a lot with a small air wing,” Eric Wertheim, an independent naval analyst and author of Combat Fleets of the World, told The National Interest. “Especially when it contains advanced stealth aircraft like the F-35B.”
At the same time the Japanese cabinet approved the ship modifications, it also endorsed the purchase of 42 F-35Bs from Lockheed Martin, an acquisition that could cost up to $5 billion but should provide the Japanese air force more than enough fighters for the new carriers.
Navies tend to buy their most important ship types in twos or threes, so that at least one vessel is ready for combat while the others conduct training or undergo maintenance. But navies also plan for surge operations, in which as many ships as possible deploy for war, even if that means deferring maintenance or training.
The U.S. Navy possesses 10 Nimitz– and Ford-class supercarriers. It plans to deploy six of the ships within 30 days of a crisis, plus at least one more within 90 days.
With 42 F-35Bs, Japan conceivably could surge both Izumos.