Japan unveiled plans to develop the country’s first aircraft carrier in over seven decades on Dec. 11, 2018.
The Japanese government wants to “enable fighter jets to be operated from existing warships,” the draft guidelines explained, according to the Associated Press.
Japan revealed Dec. 11, 2018, an intention to upgrade its largest post-war naval vessel, the flat-topped Izumo helicopter destroyer, to accommodate short-takeoff fighter jets such as the B variant of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which has been launched from the deck of an amphibious assault ship.
Media reports from the end of November 2018 suggested that Japan, facing Chinese assertiveness and increased pressure from the Trump administration to buy more US weapons and combat systems, is considering purchasing as many as 100 F-35 stealth fighters.
“With short take-off vertical landing capability you are now able to operate at sea,” a source with knowledge of the plans told CNN late November 2018. “You are able to penetrate areas and reach ranges in a shorter distance which is an important capability.”
An F-35B Lightning II prepares to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)
Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibits the possession of “attack aircraft carriers,” but the defense ministry argues that the proposed plans do not run afoul of the law. “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,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya explained to reporters, according to Kyodo News.
Japan has a total of four helicopter destroyers, among which are two Izumo-class destroyers that could be quickly converted to serve as aircraft carriers. While Japan once had one of the largest and most powerful carrier forces, the country has not had an aircraft carrier since the end of World War II, during which US Navy ships and fighters sank Japan’s aircraft carriers.
The decision to strengthen Japan’s maritime combat capabilities comes as China expands its power at sea, rapidly expanding both its naval and air assets to assert dominance over contested areas such as the East China Sea, where Japanese interests are increasingly vulnerable.
China is in the process of building a carrier force. The country has one operational carrier, another undergoing sea trials, and a third ship in development.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.