Japan shows off modified Izumo-class helicopter carrier

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has for the first time released official images of Izumo-class helicopter carrier JS Kaga in an advanced stage of conversion for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft operations.

Images released by the JMSDF Escort Flotilla 4 on its social media page in late December depicted Kaga on a series of sea trials after a considerable drydock period to perform refit work at Japan Marine United (JMU)’s Kure shipyard in Hiroshima.

Kaga is the second of two Izumo-class helicopter carriers operated by the JMSDF. Lead vessel JS Izumo was commissioned in March 2015 while Kaga entered service two years later. Although conceived as “multipurpose destroyers” that can support seaborne helicopter operations, the Izumo-class has weight and strength provisions for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) STOVL aircraft.

The recent day and night-time images released by Escort Flotilla 4 highlighted Kaga’s reformed bow section, which has modified from a trapezoidal to a rectangular shape to increase its flight deck space. However, further work is expected to the vessel’s internal spaces for additional aviation fuel capacity and weapons.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) earlier noted that the conversion of the Izumo-class will be carried out in two main stages, which dovetail with the vessels’ periodic refit and overhaul programmes that occur every five years.

The first stage of work has already been completed by June 2021, with JS Izumo being seen with several enhancements such as newly painted deck lines to guide fixed-wing aircraft operations and the application of a heat resistant coating to the flight deck to prevent damage from the F-35B’s exhaust. Other modifications include the installation of landing equipment and lighting.

Japan’s Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) for FY 2019-2023 includes a stated aim to procure 18 F-35Bs, with the longer-term goal of acquiring up to 42 F-35B aircraft. The first batch of aircraft is expected to be delivered from 2024.

by Jr Ng