A US Marine Corp F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter has conducted a landing and take-off verification flight with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer IS Izumo recently in the waters south of Shikoku Island.
The event marks the first time that an F-35B fighter, which is the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, has landed on a JMSDF vessel. The near-20,000t IS Izumo, which was commissioned into service in 2015, is being converted from a helicopter destroyer into a light aircraft carrier with the F-35B the centrepiece of its future airwing.
Japan’s decision to return to carrier-based aviation appears driven by a desire to counter the rise of China in the waters of the Asia-Pacific, with Tokyo keen to acquire a power projection capability to deter Beijing’s regional ambitions.
The two countries claim the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in China), which are located around 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan in the East China Sea.
Japan plans to acquire 42 F-35B fighters as part of a wider split purchase of the maritime-capable B version and conventional A variant.