Japan, which swore off aircraft carriers in the wake of the Second World War, wants to upgrade its fleet of Izumo-class helicopter destroyers to turn them into full-scale aircraft carriers to accommodate US F-35B Lighting fighters, the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the stealth fighter.
Because loading F-35B fighter jets onto the converted Izumo and Kaga helicopter-carrying destroyers would directly mean Japan’s acquisition of the ability to hit enemy bases, the government will have to decide the issue based on discussions for the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines at the end of 2018, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Japan, which believes it is facing security threats from regional neighbors North Korea and China, insists that its constitution does not ban it from having aircraft carriers, which Tokyo argues are purely defensive weapons.
Wary as it is about Pyongyang’s growing ballistic missile capability, Japan’s primary concern is China, which has established control over a number of reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Japan also fears that China could easily occupy the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea which, though currently being administered by Tokyo, are claimed by Beijing, DW wrote.
Tokyo feels that the planned transformation of the Izumo-class helicopter destroyers into full-fledged aircraft carriers with F-35s on board could effectively ensure the security of the strategic archipelago.
As for Japan’s constitutional ban on aircraft carriers, the prohibition specifically concerns “attack aircraft carriers” meant to project offensive air power against a foreign country.
Tokyo insists that the overhauled Izumo-class destroyers with F-35Bs on board would technically be “defensive” aircraft carriers meant to protect the country’s airspace.