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The Best Defense? Japan’s Controversial F-35 Carrier Upgrade Confirmed

© REUTERS / Kim Kyung-HoonA helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier, at JMSDF Yokosuka base in Yokosuka
A helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier, at JMSDF Yokosuka base in Yokosuka - Sputnik International
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The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has confirmed long-held suspicions that the JS Izumo, a helicopter carrier, will be retrofitted into a full-on aircraft carrier to accommodate F-35B aircraft, Japanese media report.

New defense guidelines that have been drafted and approved by the ruling parties in Japan "enable fighter jets to be operated from existing warships, if necessary, to improve the flexibility of their operation," reports the Mainichi, a Japanese daily.

The JS Izumo is the first ship of the Izumo-class vessels. It's not clear if future ships of the same model will also carry F-35s or only military choppers.

A helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier, at JMSDF Yokosuka base in Yokosuka - Sputnik International
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The Japanese Constitution is pacifist, so Tokyo cannot technically arm itself with "attack aircraft carriers." The ruling Liberal Democratic party and the Komeito party, a coalition partner, reached agreement on the ship modifications December 11. The parties said the upgraded Izumo ship will not breach Japan's solely-defensive position.

Liberal Democrats convinced the Komeito party the ship would not be used for long-distance strikes by pointing out that the Japanese Self-Defense Force doesn't have the ability to conduct midair refueling operations, according to the Diplomat.

"The Izumo was originally designed as a multipurpose escort ship, so it wouldn't pose any threat to other countries if fighter jets are deployed on it," said Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya on Tuesday, per Japan's Kyodo news agency.

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The Izumo-class ship is the largest Japanese ship that's been made in the post-war period, displacing about 20,000 tons and measuring 248 meters long by 38 meters wide. It's roughly comparable in size to the USS Wasp, a landing helicopter deck amphibious assault ship, which is approximately 257 meters long by 38 meters at its beam. The USS Wasp was the first-ever ship in the US fleet to carry F-35B aircraft.

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