China is taking a stand and drawing a line in the sand. The Chinese regime in Beijing is upset over reports that Japan is considering adapting their Izumo-class "helicopter destroyers" to operate the F-35B Lightning.
According to a report by UPI, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Japan to "do more that may help enhance mutual trust and promote regional peace and stability." China and Japan have a long-running maritime, territorial dispute centering around the Senkaku Islands.
Once named Varyag by the Soviets in 1988, this carrier would later be commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy as Liaoning in 2012. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
China currently has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a sister ship to the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov, and is building a copy of that ship along with plans to build four larger carriers, two of which are to be nuclear-powered. Japan, presently, has two Izumo-class vessels in service, as well as two Hyuga-class "helicopter destroyers" that are smaller than the Izumo-class ships.
Popular Mechanics notes that the Izumo can hold up to 14 SH-60 helicopters, and is already capable of operating the V-22 Osprey. Japan also has orders for 42 F-35A Lightnings, which take off and land from conventional land bases. Japan's four "helicopter destroyers" are the second-largest carrier force in the world.
JS Izumo underway in 2015. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
If Japan were to modify the Izumo-class ships to operate F-35s, the cost could be huge. The vessels need modifications to their magazines to carry the weapons the F-35s use. Furthermore, the decks would need to be re-done to handle the hot exhaust from the F-35's F135 engine.
It should be noted that while reports only cited the Izumo-class vessels as possible F-35 carriers, the Hyuga-class vessels could also be used to operate the Lightning. The Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi, at 10,500 tons, operates AV-8B Harriers. The Hyugas come in at just under 19,000 tons. Japan also has developed, but not deployed, an unmanned combat air vehicle.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH-181) underway in the Pacific Ocean as U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters hover nearby. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
In any case, it looks at is Japan is preparing to break out from its post-World War II traditions of low defense spending and its self-imposed limits on military capability.