The Ministry of Defense (防衛相, Bōei-shō) requests within the framework of the 2020 fiscal year currently under discussion that the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (海上自衛隊, Kaijō Jieitai) benefit from the redesign of the "carrier destroyer helicopters” (22DDH program) JS Izumo (2015) so that it can implement F-35Bs . The JS Kaga (2017) will begin the same project in 2022. This Japanese transition from words to deeds materializes a first response from an Asian nation bordering the Pacific Ocean to the Chinese naval aircraft program.
The 22DDH takes over from the 16DDH, that is to say the JS Hyūga (2009) and JS Ise (20011) which are designed as helicopter-carrying destroyers (19,000 tonnes at full load, 18 rotary wings) whose primary mission is anti-submarine warfare. By their dimensions and characteristics, the 16DDH are comparable to the South Korean navy's helicopter carriers ROKS Dokdo (2007) and ROKS Marado (2020?) of 18,800 tonnes which are specifically designed for amphibious operations and at -above the surface.
The 22DDH destroyer program was officially launched on November 23, 2009. The number preceding the Japanese combat ship category corresponds to the year of the Japanese Imperial Calendar era. This program came into effect during the 2010 fiscal year, which corresponds to the 22nd year of the Heisei era (平成時代, Heisei jida ).
The JS Izumo and JS Kaga were, respectively, laid down in 2012 and 2013, launched in 2013 and 2015 to be admitted to active service in 2015 and 2017. Compared to the 16DDH, they are in a way an enlarged version with a full load tonnage increased from 19,000 to 27,000 tonnes. The first building would have cost approximately 1,136 million euros (2012). Their main mission is also anti-submarine warfare thanks to the embarkation of several rotary wings specialized in this area of combat, as well as through the integration of a voluminous OQQ-23 active bow sonar. The aircraft facilities are sized to support and operate up to 28 helicopters .
From the outset of the program, the possibility was studied for future helicopter-carrying destroyers to operate fixed-wing aircraft such as the V-22 / MV-22 Osprey as well as the F-35B Lightning II . The latter aircraft belongs to the category of Vertical Take Off and Landing (ADAV) or Vertical or Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL). This characteristic makes it possible to envisage landing and taking off from a combat vessel with a flat deck and no catapult, provided that it supports its mass and the heat of its nozzles.
At the beginning of March 2018, the Japanese Minister of Defense – Mr. ONODERA Itsunori – declared before the budget committee of the Japanese Senate that a study would be carried out to investigate the ability of the JS Izumo and JS Kaga to be able to operate the F- 35B . The study published on April 27, 2018, was written by the company Japan Marine United Corporation (ジャパン マリンユナイテッド株式会社 Japan Marine United Kabushiki-kaisha) which concluded that it was technically possible to operate the F-35B from the two buildings of the class.
This latest study is clarified that it would only involve embarking F-35Bs . This way of presenting things was undermined when the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun presented a scoop on February 13, 2018: the government of ABE Shinzo would prepare the acquisition of 20 to 40 F-35Bs . The schedule would include the launch of the program in 2019, first deliveries from fiscal year 2024 and a first operational capacity in 2026.
The Japanese government decided at the beginning of December 2018 to acquire the F-35B . The target for the future program was specified at 42 F-35Bs during the same month. A decision was also made to overhaul the two Izumo-class helicopter-carrying destroyers.
A request for information was issued by the Japanese Ministry of Defense in March 2019 for the benefit of an ADAV aircraft. The American company Lockheed Martin, manufacturing the F-35B , was, unsurprisingly, the only one to respond. On August 16, 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Defense published a press release in which it confirmed the decision to acquire the F-35B for the benefit of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (航空自衛隊, Kōkū Jieitai) and not the Kaijō Jieitai (Japanese navy). According to this release, “The F-35B met all requirements for the Air Self-Defense Force’s short takeoff and vertical landing fighter. » The order for 42 F-35Bs was therefore officially confirmed and launched.
According to the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, it was also in March 2019 that the Japanese government asked General Neller (2015 – 2019), commander of the United States Marines Corps (USMC), for cooperation and advice on how to operate F-35Bs on the deck of “modified vessels,” which would result in USMC F-35Bs
As part of the Japanese medium-term defense program (2019 – 2023), adopted by the Tokyo government in 2018, the Japanese military budget for the 2020 fiscal year allows the transition from words to actions because it contains, not only funds to the tune of 700 million euros for a first order of six F-35Bs but also the credits to begin the overhaul of JS Izumo (2015). Beyond the acquisition of a fixed-wing embarked naval aviation, Tōkyō also offers a naval aviation permanence.
The final silhouette of the two helicopter-carrying destroyers of the 22DDH program still remains unknown. The Japanese manga Kûbo Ibuki (2014) takes place around the aircraft carrier Ibuki (a light aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy bore that name) with hull number 192. It is a fictional vessel with all the characteristics of the Izumo class, apart from the aeronautical installations allowing to accommodate F-35Bs including a springboard at the front of the building. The Japanese model manufacturer Tamiya even offers a 1/700 model (see illustration in the brief). It is not yet fully appreciated in what way this manga precedes or prepares the rise of Japanese naval aviation capabilities. Nor if the author was able to discuss with Japanese companies about technical arrangements such as the integration of a springboard. The accentuation of nationalist sentiments in Japanese manga has been noticeable for several years. It is the publisher in Japan who holds the rights to the work, allowing him to direct his remarks.
The program schedule consists of starting the first works at the end (March 2020) of the 2019 fiscal year. The project would last until the 2021 fiscal year, which means that it will end at later in March 2022. The JS Kaga (2017) would then begin the same redesign in 2022 almost immediately following the JS Izumo .
The main work will consist of reinforcing the deck of the JS Izumo so that it can support the weight of the F-35B (31 tonnes) during landings. It will also involve applying a new coating to the flight deck capable of resisting the heat of the gases of the F135 reactor of the F-35B , significantly greater than that of the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II . As a result, the boarding of V-22 and MV-22 Osprey should be greatly facilitated.
A future Japanese naval air force structure is thus emerging at the start of the year 2023 which, in this hypothesis, would combine two naval groups acting together and involving a Hyūga-class helicopter-carrying destroyer, leading several anti-aircraft destroyers and frigates. submarines, plus a second group centered on an Izumo-class multipurpose operations destroyer accompanied by air defense destroyers and E -2D Advanced Hawkeyes . These two groups fighting below and above the surface would have operational influence within a radius of 800 km.